Signaling a renewed push to reclaim a congressional seat in Republican-trending Kentucky, national Democrats are targeting U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in an early radio ad campaign attacking GOP efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Thursday the ad will run in 11 GOP-held districts, including Kentucky's 6th District. The salvo comes more than a year ahead of next year's midterm election that Democrats hope will restore them to power in the U.S. House.
"We're going in early; we're going in strong in the Kentucky 6th to make sure people there know that as long as Congressman Barr is in office, he's going to keep trying to repeal health care," DCCC spokesman Jacob Peters said in a phone interview.
The DCCC said its ads will run on five radio stations in the central Kentucky district. The commercials focus on Barr's vote to repeal and replace the health care law championed by former President Barack Obama.
The National Republican Congressional Committee jumped to Barr's defense.
With health insurance premiums rising sharply, committee spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said "it would have been malpractice for Congressman Barr to sit back and watch the marketplace crumble and his constituents suffer."
When Barr voted in the spring for the replacement health care legislation, he called it a "great day for freedom."
"Since I first ran for Congress, I promised the people of the Sixth District that I would vote to repeal this broken law and replace it with reforms that will actually lower costs and expand access to care through patient-centered, market-based reforms," he said at the time.
The repeal effort later died in the Senate. But Barr's support of efforts to dismantle the Obama health care law drew a backlash from some voters. In April, hundreds of people showed up at one of Barr's town hall meetings to yell at him about voting for repeal.
The radio ad seeks to tap into voters' anxiety about future health care costs and availability. It says Barr voted for legislation that would raise out-of-pocket costs and hurt Medicaid.
"Your congressman, Andy Barr, hasn't stopped trying to repeal your health care," says a female narrator in the ad. "No more waiting. Let's change Washington."
So far, three Democrats are vying to challenge Barr in next year's election — former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, state Sen. Reggie Thomas and perennial candidate Geoff Young.
Barr's seat has been eyed by Democrats since he defeated a Democratic incumbent in 2012. The district includes Lexington, the state's second-largest city, along with a number of rural counties mostly trending toward Republicans.
University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss said the early ad shows Barr's seat is shaping up as a priority for national Democrats. That will help put the 6th District race on the radar for more potential Democratic donors and activists, he said.
But the 6th District race will likely hinge on national political trends, Voss said.
"If Barr's vulnerable, it's going to come down to (President Donald) Trump's popularity, the standing of the Republican Party," he said.
The renewed interest in the 6th District comes as Kentucky Democrats are reeling from a long string of election defeats. Republicans hold the state's U.S. Senate seats, five of six U.S. House seats, the governorship and the state General Assembly, and Trump dominated the state last year.