Kentucky 1st District congressional race pits veteran Republican - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky 1st District congressional race pits veteran Republican against Democratic newcomer

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James Comer James Comer
Sam Gaskins Sam Gaskins

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky will have at least one new member of congress after next month's election.

Two major-party candidates are battling over an open seat in the massive first district, which spreads from far western Kentucky into the south central portion of the state.

The race pits a Republican well-known in Kentucky politics against a Democrat making his first run for office.

Republican James Comer is spending the last days of the campaign barnstorming the district’s 35 counties.

The campaign trail is a familiar place for Comer. He spent 12 years in the state House, a term as Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner and made an unsuccessful run for governor, losing to Matt Bevin in the primary by 83 votes.

“After the governor's race, obviously I was very disappointed,” Comer said.

But Comer quickly jumped back into politics after getting word that Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield planned to retire.

He believes he can hit the ground running in Washington.

“I'll automatically be a leader in Congress from day one just because of my agriculture background," he said. "I'll be the only member of Congress that was a Commissioner of Agriculture."

Comer says his priority is bringing what he calls common sense to Washington, including scaling back federal regulations he believes stifle job growth.

“The one thing that every job creator in the 1st Congressional District tells me that holds them back is the regulatory burden from Washington, D.C.,”  Comer said.

The same day that Comer was hitting six different counties, Democrat Sam Gaskins was well off the beaten path of the campaign trail at the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse in Marion County.

It's an unusual place to be in the final days before an election.

“Well, I'm not a typical candidate either,” Gaskins laughed.

Gaskins was in Loretto to talk to social service workers about how to help abused kids.

The military veteran says it's part of his effort to respond to issues Washington is ignoring.

“And instead of sitting back complaining about it, the Marine in me took over, and I said, 'Put up or shut up.' And here I am,” Gaskins said.

Gaskins knows he is a long shot with little name recognition and little money.

What he does have is a desire to bring jobs to Kentucky by building infrastructure, including broadband.

“Once that happens, we can actually entice more businesses that are geared toward the future such as Google, Apple, things of that nature,” he said.

Comer and Gaskins are on opposite sides of most issues.

Comer is a conservative who plans to vote for Donald Trump, though he says he disagrees with Trump's comments about women. Comer wants to secure the southern border, repeal Obamacare and opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.

Gaskins is a progressive who backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, but he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. Gaskins says he wants to increase the number of border patrol agents, but also supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the country already. He says Obamacare should be fixed, not repealed, and he accepts both same-sex marriage and abortion as decided issues.

Both say they support reforming the Veterans Administration and want to eliminate wasteful spending in the Pentagon.

Gaskins and Comer are actually running to win two elections.

Because of Whitfield's early retirement, their names will appear twice on the same ballot -- once for a special election to fill Whitfield's unexpired term the rest of this year and a second to fill the new term starting in January.

Comer is busy spreading the word.

“I am worried about it. But hopefully, we'll get the message across,” Comer said.

Gaskins has a different take.

“A lot of people said it was going to confuse Kentucky voters. I don't think they give Kentuckians enough credit,” he said.

Voters also have a third option in this race. Independent Terry McIntosh is a registered write-in candidate. According to his website, McIntosh promises to donate his salary and believes the Republican Party has become too liberal.

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