LEXINGTON – A year ago, there weren’t many people on her bus, Elisabeth Jensen said Monday night as she opened her campaign headquarters.
But now, the Democrat who wants to unseat first-term U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Sixth Dist., said her campaign bus is a little more crowded.
“More people have gotten on the bus and made the ride a lot more comfortable,” Jensen told 50 or so supporters who attended the headquarters opening and signed a “Pledge to Reject Wasteful Perks.”
Jensen acknowledged some empty seats on the bus, but said she’s working to fill them. She’s encouraged by the recent decision by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to call the sixth district contest an “emerging race.”
On a recent trip to Washington to meet with the DCCC, Jensen, 49, said she was told she’s “made the race competitive.’’ And national party officials promised “we’re going to do whatever we need to do” for her to win, she added.
One person on Jensen’s bus already is Tim Gardner of Richmond. The disabled registered nurse has been making phone calls on Jensen’s behalf.
“I think she’s honest,’ Gardner said. “She doesn’t come across as a polished politician. She comes across more as someone who means what she says.”
Unlike many Democrats in red-leaning states, Jensen hasn’t shied away from support of the Affordable Care Act and its Kentucky franchise, Kynect. She told supporters Monday that Barr would repeal the ACA ― he calls it Obamacare ― and deny health insurance to nearly 500,000 Kentuckians who have signed up under the law.
She’s also running on many of the economic themes adopted by the Democrat at the top of this fall’s ticket: U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. Like Grimes, Jensen campaigns on middle-class, working-family issues such as the minimum wage and equal pay.
Jensen, who co-founded the non-profit Race for Education, once worked for large corporations. Monday she told supporters of the time she discovered that she was making less than a male counterpart who managed a much smaller division in the business.
Although she complained to her boss, Jensen said she liked her job and “put up with it.” However, she said that decision was “one of the worst mistakes I made in my career.”
Unsurprisingly, education is part of Jensen’s campaign pitch, promising “to provide the best education for our children.”
“And I will fight the irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest who need it the least,” she said.
Jensen’s “Pledge to Reject Wasteful Perks” is aimed at Barr, of course, and the Democrat said she will not abuse the congressional franking privilege as she claims Barr has in sending out “campaign style” mailers. The mailings cost taxpayers ― “that’s you,” she told the crowd ― $192,000. She also pledged not to fly first-class on trips from D.C. and to spend tax dollars frugally if elected.
Barr’s office on Tuesday denied the mailers were campaign materials. His staff provided examples of questionnaires asking sixth district residents how they would vote on issues before Congress. The office also produced a list of expenditures for constituent outreach efforts including telephonic town halls, the voter surveys, and meeting notices to show the $192,000 covers all constituent services, not just mailers.
“While Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama’s political playbook calls for attempts to distort Andy’s office spending, the truth is that Andy is one of the most transparent and accountable members of Congress who is committed to accessibility and providing greater service to his constituents,” said Catherine Gatewood, his communications director.
Jensen also accused Barr of conducting “closed door meetings with lobbyists” and promised to “publicly disclose my calendar” if elected.
Jim Smith, a registered Democrat and retired U.S. Postal worker from Versailles, said Jensen’s economic message should resonate with sixth district voters.
“If she puts her ideas out there, and if Democrats vote like Democrats, she’s got a good shot” at defeating Barr, Smith said.
But Jensen so far is well behind in the fundraising required to get her message out. Her newly hired finance director, Melanie McCormick, said Jensen will report raising just under $200,000 for the second quarter. But McCormick said the campaign expects “a huge third quarter” after the campaign has begun attracting interest and notice from Democrats in Kentucky and Washington.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.