By Sam Youngman
WASHINGTON — One of the Democrats vying to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in next year’s election opened up a line of attack on the congressman Sunday over the federal government shutdown.
Democrat Elisabeth Jensen used the results of a new poll, sponsored by the liberal MoveOn.org and conducted by left-leaning Public Polling Polling (PPP), to launch an assault on Barr. The poll shows Barr taking a significant political hit from the shutdown.
Many Republicans dispute the validity of the poll, which shows Barr with only a 38 percent approval rating and losing to an unspecified Democrat next year.
The sample for the poll, part of a group of surveys PPP conducted in 23 other districts between Oct. 2-4, leans heavily toward Democrats, who make up 51 percent of the respondents compared to 36 percent who answered as Republicans and 14 percent who responded as independents.
The numbers, if accurate, show looming storm clouds for Barr. They suggest a severe rebuke of Republicans for pushing to keep President Barack Obama’s health care law on the negotiating table, definitively placing blame on Republicans for causing the shutdown.
The poll shows Barr losing to a generic Democrat both before and after respondents were asked if they’d be more or less likely to vote for him if they knew he voted in support of a government shutdown in an effort “to stop the health care law from being put into place.
Barr trailed a theoretical Democratic candidate 44 percent to 47 percent before respondents were asked that and similar questions. Afterward, he trailed 42 percent to 50 percent.
“The people of Central and Eastern Kentucky are clearly rejecting Congressman Barr’s decision to shut down the government for the purpose of political posturing,” Jensen said in a statement. “It is time to reach across the aisle, and actually start the process of governing together. It is what our economy needs to start moving forward again, and what the people of the 6th district want.”
A spokeswoman for Barr dismissed both the poll and the subsequent attack.
“Andy Barr is focused on doing his job representing the people of the Sixth District, not partisan political attacks,” spokeswoman Catherine Gatewood said. “It doesn’t take a poll to know Kentuckians are tired of politics as usual. That’s why Andy Barr is fighting to hold Washington accountable and working to get the government up and running.”
Barr has not shied away from his position that the health care law should be repealed or at the very least modified, and that the current budget battle is the appropriate time and way to do so.
In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader hours before the shutdown began last week, Barr said that his constituents “sent me to Washington to repeal Obamacare.”
“Shutting down the government is a bad idea and moving forward with Obamacare is a bad idea,” Barr said.
Jensen, executive director of the nonprofit Race for Education, is headed toward a primary with two other Lexington Democrats in 2014: Joe Palumbo, a Lexington business owner and son of longtime state Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo; and lawyer Michael Coblenz.