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Out Senate Candidate Jim Gray Is in a Lonely Fight With Rand Paul

Out Senate Candidate Jim Gray Is in a Lonely Fight With Rand Paul

JIM GRAY

Democrats nominated an out gay man to run against Rand Paul in Kentucky, but he's fighting without the complete support of LGBT groups.

Like a lot of U.S. Senate candidates, Jim Gray skipped last week's Democratic National Convention.

While Hillary Clinton made history by accepting her party's nomination, becoming the first woman ever to reach that elite level in politics, Gray is also a candidate for history books. He's the first openly gay man ever to win any major party's nomination for a U.S. Senate run -- winning 59 percent of the vote in the primary. He's taking on Republican incumbent Rand Paul in Kentucky -- and given Gray's repeated attacks on Paul for being distracted by national aspirations, it might have been especially inconsistent for Gray to leave the state.

"One of the reasons Jim is doing so well is because he has a vision for Kentucky that people here believe in," campaign spokeswoman Cathy Lindsey told The Advocate, "and people feel let down by Rand Paul who clearly remains focused on his next presidential campaign."

So instead of marking his own historic moment with a national speech, Gray spent the week talking about revitalizing the economy in Kentucky's coal regions. The two-term mayor of Lexington unveiled a four-part plan that his campaign says will "help miners, their families and all Kentuckians." The plan includes innovative "clean coal" technology, attracting new business to the state, and retraining workers for those new jobs -- "the jobs of the future."

That's an important message as Gray faces new attacks from a conservative super PAC, called America's Liberty PAC. It bought 30-second TV ads tying Gray to Clinton as "the same kind of liberal, big-government, coal-hating politicians." And while Democrats celebrated at the convention, the National Republican Senatorial Committee was attacking Gray, issuing a press release that labels Gray "No Friend of Coal."

It might have seemed odd that Gray wasn't included in a convention that repeatedly made the case to LGBT Americans, and neither was Misty Snow, the first transgender woman ever nominated for a U.S. Senate run by the Democrats. But while Snow says the schedule of convention speakers was locked down before she won her Utah primary, Gray says it was his choice to skip the spotlight.

"Jim chose to stay in Kentucky to focus on his job as Lexington's mayor as well as his campaign to replace Rand Paul," Lindsey told The Advocate. "This race is incredibly close and Jim is poised to win, but it requires a lot of work here at home."

Still, Gray could truly benefit from LGBT support nationally if he's going to win. He raised $1.75 million in the first quarter, which included $1 million the businessman -- he made his fortune in construction -- gave to his own campaign. That was far more than Paul's $530,000. Then Gray raised almost $1.1 million solely from donations over the second quarter, nearly as much as Paul's $1.2 million. The fundraising contest only gets more difficult as Election Day nears and super PACs spend unforeseeable amounts.

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin became the first out woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate, in 2012. Baldwin was also known for focusing her campaign intensely on her home state. And she spoke to the convention in 2012 about "the Wisconsin I know" and why it would vote for Barack Obama.

Her campaign was supported by Victory Fund, which also supports Gray and other LGBT officials running for office. He hasn't locked down all of the levers of LGBT support available, though. The Human Rights Campaign has not yet given its endorsement, which comes with a PAC contribution. HRC endorsed Baldwin more than a year before Election Day 2012. Gray campaign officials confirm they answered the HRC questionnaire required for an endorsement but haven't heard from HRC in months, and HRC's own guidelines require that it set up an interview with the candidate before making a decision. There are less than 100 days until the election.

The super PAC for the LGBT Congressional Caucus, called Equality PAC, has announced its endorsement of a number of candidates, including Hillary Clinton, but not yet Gray -- or Snow.

The LGBT Caucus wielded some convention speaking time, and its members voted to grant it to Sarah McBride, HRC national press secretary. (The group's president, Chad Griffin, also spoke.) With that moment in the spotlight, McBride became the first out transgender person ever to address a convention. The milestone came with rounds of interviews by major outlets and figures, including the likes of Katie Couric, and she was introduced onstage by LGBT members of Congress as a sign of their support.

Gray wasn't on the main stage during the convention, but he did make an appearance by sending a video to the LGBT Caucus, which met during the convention, to argue that LGBT leaders shouldn't dismiss his candidacy.

"Now, some of you may ask, 'A gay Democrat running in Kentucky? Good luck,'" he says to them in the video. "Well, not so fast. Not so fast. Let me tell you about this race."

Gray says his internal polling shows the race is tied, calling Paul "not exactly the most popular guy in the world." And Gray made one of his most explicit calls yet for LGBT support.

"Sen. Paul has been against, for example, marriage equality since he's been in the Senate," said Gray. "He's even said I don't believe in rights, 'special rights,' based on your behavior. This is the guy I'm running against. Now I need your help. I need you going back home to your community and talking to your friends and family and talking up this race -- because not only can we win this race, we're going to win this race."

Watch Gray's video to the LGBT Caucus below:

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