After weeks of rumors, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray confirmed Thursday that he is considering a run for the U.S. Senate this year, challenging presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green.
Although less than three weeks remain before the Jan. 26 candidate filing deadline, Gray would not say when he plans to make a decision. He is a registered Democrat.
“I enjoy my job as mayor, and the only reason I would consider another office is I believe Washington is terribly broken and I could make a practical contribution by helping create jobs and economic opportunity for Kentuckians,” Gray told the Herald-Leader. “That’s what I’ve done in my business career and as mayor of Lexington.”
Gray, who was Kentucky’s first openly-gay mayor, was elected to a second term in 2014.
Paul spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said Paul “looks forward to putting his record and ideas up against anyone.”
“Senator Paul has tirelessly fought for the people of Kentucky, for the constitution and stood firm against the liberal Obama agenda and war on Kentucky coal,” Cooper said.
Former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, a friend of Gray’s, said he has “no idea what decision he is going to make, but I think he’d make a tremendous candidate.”
“The fact that our present senator is never in Kentucky tells me that the race is up for grabs,” Chandler said. “I think it’s a seat in play because it’s clear that our present senator is not terribly interested in being the senator from Kentucky.”
Democrats have been desperately searching for a viable candidate to challenge Paul, viewing him as vulnerable after spending months — and a lot of money — in a bid to win the Republican presidential nomination while simultaneously running for re-election to his Senate seat.
But election results from the last two years suggest Kentucky is turning deep red politically. Landslide wins by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Gov. Matt Bevin have left the Democratic Party in search of answers and credible candidates.
Former State Auditor Adam Edelen, who was intensely courted by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee after his re-election defeat in November, has made clear he does not plan to run against Paul.
And U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, the state’s only Democrat elected to federal office, told reporters earlier this week that he was “concerned we might not have a credible candidate.”
While two Democrats and one Republican have already filed to run against Paul, they are unknown and unlikely to pose a serious threat to the senator.
The Democratic desperation to find a candidate has not been lost on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who faces the daunting task of trying to maintain his majority in a year where the election map is decidedly more favorable to Democrats.
McConnell, who was thought to be concerned about Paul’s two-campaign strategy until Republicans won convincingly in the November election, laughed when asked Wednesday what he thought about Paul’s re-election chances.
“It looks pretty good so far,” McConnell said. “It looks to me like they can’t find anybody to run when even John Yarmuth is throwing up his hands and saying ‘it’s over.’ I think that’s a good indication of just how beat down Kentucky Democrats are.”