Lexington, KY – Republican Andy Barr resumed his quest for a congressional seat Thursday, saying he wants another crack at the Democrat who defeated him by a mere 648 votes last year in central Kentucky.
Barr's campaign announcement rekindled his verbal sparring with U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat. The two waged one of the nation's closest congressional races in 2010 - an outcome that ended 10 days after the election when Barr conceded following a re-canvass of the results.
Preparing for a possible 2012 rematch, Barr lambasted "career politicians" who ignore the nation's debt crisis. Chandler shot back by accusing Barr of reprising "the same radical agenda" that the incumbent said would jeopardize Medicare.
"I will do everything I can to stop it," Chandler said in a statement.
Barr, a Lexington attorney, said his top priority would be stopping the federal government's "reckless spending spree." Barr said he would push for government to "live within its means and allows individuals the freedom to succeed."
Chandler said he would defend entitlement programs that he said are jeopardized by Republicans.
"Next year voters will have a very simple choice to make: whether to protect and save Social Security and Medicare, or to end them," said Chandler, who has represented the 6th District since winning a special election in 2004.
The central Kentucky district is a mix of farms, small towns and the state's second-largest city, Lexington.
Prior to his campaign announcement, Barr told Politico during an interview this week that he would have voted for the spending plan crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Ryan's plan would slash federal spending by $5 trillion or more over the coming decade. It would leave Social Security untouched but shift more of the risk of rising medical costs from the government to Medicare beneficiaries.
Under the plan, people now 54 and younger wouldn't go into the same Medicare program as their parents and grandparents upon retirement. Instead, they would get a voucher-style federal payment to purchase coverage from a choice of regulated private plans
It also calls for sharp cuts to Medicaid health care for the poor and disabled and to food aid for the poor.
Chandler voted against the Ryan budget plan, and tried to tie Barr to the proposal on Thursday.
"Even though so many hardworking Kentuckians depend on Medicare and Medicaid, Andy Barr admitted this week that he supports ending them," Chandler said in his statement.
That brought a quick reply from Barr, who said the biggest threats to entitlements are politicians who "continue to put their head in the sand and deny that the United States is facing a catastrophic debt crisis."
Asked to comment on the Ryan budget plan Thursday, Barr's campaign issued a statement in which the Republican candidate voiced support for any proposal that ends the federal spending spree and averts a debt crisis.
"That means preserving our commitments to current seniors and those near retirement while at the same time enacting reforms that ensure long-term sustainability of Medicare and Social Security for future generations," he said.
Chandler, a former state attorney general, is heir to a famous political name. His grandfather, A.B. "Happy" Chandler, was a Kentucky governor and senator. Last year, Chandler barely withstood a national Republican landslide that put the GOP in control of the House.
University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss predicted a close rematch.
As a proven viable candidate, Barr can build a strong organization early on, he said. But Democrats appear to be in stronger position nationally, he said, unless the economy starts to slide again.
"Barr will have to fight on more of a level playing field in terms of the political environment," Voss said.
Unlike the 2010 midterm elections, next year is a presidential race that will have President Barack Obama on the ballot.
Chandler endorsed Obama before Kentucky's primary in 2008. The then-Illinois senator was trounced by Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Bluegrass state. That fall, Obama lost the 6th District by a wide margin to Republican John McCain.
Barr got an immediate plug Thursday from U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The Texan said Barr would join the fight against Democrats' big-government agenda.
Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson said Barr "went from unknown to a statistical tie with a professional politician" in 2010.
"In 2012, Andy will finish the job," Robertson said.