Until last year, the Idle Hour Country Club in Lexington, Kentucky, had no African American members. Now lifetime member and 6th Congressional District Republican nominee Andy Barr is finding himself in the awkward position of explaining his connection to what was until very recently an all-white club — in the middle of a hotly contested election campaign against incumbent Rep. Ben Chandler (D).
Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt reports the Republican’s campaign has confirmed that Barr — a top-tier NRCC “Young Gun” — and his family are “active in the club.” As the Lexington Herald-Leader reported last year when former Kentucky college star and NBA player Sam Bowie was accepted as the club’s first black member, Idle Hour has “remained a symbol of exclusivity and old divisions based on race and class in Lexington” even as the state has become more accepting of diversity in the workplace and private life.
Barr’s campaign told Politico that news of his lifetime membership at Idle Hour was nothing but the Chandler camp “resorting to cheap, personal attacks,” in the words of Barr’s campaign manager.(Besides, Barr’s camp told Politico that Chandler — a former state Attorney General and the grandson of a Governor — has his own connections to the club. Chandler’s campaign did not confirm allegations leveled by the NRCC that Chandler has “been known to attend parties” at the club in the past.)
The 6th District race is one Republicans consider to be a possible pickup for them in the fall. Despite Chandler’s past popularity (he won reelection with 65% of the vote in 2008), his vote in favor of the House “cap-and-trade” energy bill is viewed by Republicans as a serious liability. Barr, who swept a competitve primary May 18 to win his party’s nomination, is the man who Republicans say gives them the best chance in awhile to flip the 6th district seat.
But Barr’s membership in the Idle Hour club may give Democrats fresh ammunition to defend Chandler.
Beyond the clearly negative implication that Barr was an active member of a discriminatory country club, the flap also sheds a new and potentially damaging light on Barr’s refusal to discuss Kentucky GOP Senate nominee Rand Paul’s views on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Back in May, a progressive blogger in Kentucky caught up with Barr and asked him to weigh in on Paul’s controversial statements that the Act may have gone too far when it required private businesses to cater to minorities. (It should be noted that in the same interview, Paul mentioned his disdain for remnants of segregation, highlighting in particular the fact that all-white country clubs still existed.)
When Barr was asked about Paul’s views in May, he declined to answer. Here’s the video: