Lexington Mayor Jim Gray running for Congress

Jim Gray is running for Congress | Courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader

By Daniel Desrochers | Lexington Herald-Leader

After months of will-he, won’t-he whisperings among Kentucky Democrats, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray made it official early Tuesday — he’s running for Congress.

“I experienced the American Dream … but that American Dream is threatened…” Gray said as he announced his candidacy Tuesday morning in Berea. “This is why I’m running for Congress.”

Gray enters the race as the presumed favorite in a Democratic field that includes former Marine Corps fighter pilot Amy McGrath, state Sen. Reggie Thomas and perennial candidate Geoff Young.

The winner of the May primary will take on U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, a Lexington Republican in his third term in Congress.

Gray’s decision means he won’t seek a third term as mayor of Lexington next year, throwing open the race to lead Kentucky’s second-largest city.

As the first openly gay candidate to run for statewide office in Kentucky, Gray won around 51 percent of the vote in Central Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District during his failed 2016 bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. President Donald Trump won the district by 15 points.

Gray has the ability to self-finance a campaign, having spent $2.5 million of his own money over the course of his Senate campaign.

But he’s playing catch-up.

Bolstered by national media attention — including an appearance on “The Chelsea Handler” show in Los Angeles — McGrath had raised more than $800,000 and had $551,500 on hand in October.

“I love our chances if he gets in,” McGrath campaign manager Mark Nickolas said in a Nov. 21 Facebook post. “It’s a possibility that I’ve been planning for since word leaked in May that he was considering jumping in. If he does, it will be a rough and expensive primary.”

Gray’s announcement kicks off a tour of all 19 counties in the District over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I’ve talked to many people in this district. Many of them are mad as hell, many of them are scared as hell,” Gray said Tuesday morning. “That’s why I’m making this race.”