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Crowded candidate field discusses issues at congressional forum

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDKY) - Seven candidates trying to unseat Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, shared the stage Monday night at a candidate forum, less than a month before voters get their chance to narrow the field.

Six Democrats - led by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, State Senator Reggie Thomas and Retired Lt. Col. Amy McGrath - participated in the forum. So did Republican Chuck Eddy, who describes himself as a "moderate Republican" challenging Rep. Barr in next month's primary. Rep. Barr declined to participate in the forum.

The forum, organized by the Lexington League of Women Voters and moderated by Bill Bryant, focused on issues such as the opioid epidemic, health care, election security, access to guns, partisanship, and caring for veterans.

Several candidates differed in their opinions on health care, though many agreed that the Affordable Care Act should not be repealed and replaced.

"It's time to repeal and replace Andy Barr," Gray said, though he added that there are ways to improve the ACA. McGrath agreed, saying health care is a right and the ACA should be fixed, not scrapped.

McGrath said she supports a public option and a Medicare buy-in. "These are reasonable things we can do," she said.

Several times throughout the night Thomas expressed his support for "Medicare for All" single-payer health insurance.

"Healthcare is 18 percent of our GDP. If we don't do anything, it's going to be 25 percent of our GDP in a few short years and it's going to bankrupt America," Thomas said. "I am for a single-payer health care system. And people say, 'Isn't that a radical idea?' I say, 'No.'"

Candidates were also asked whether they support additional federal restrictions on guns. Thomas said people should not be allowed to have military-style weapons. Gray called for universal background checks to close online and gun show loopholes. McGrath said she also supports those background checks as well as banning bump stocks, saying "everything ought to be on the table."

"I make no apologies that I support the second amendment. I'm a gun owner. As a United States Marine I've shot all kinds of weapons," McGrath said. "But I'm also a mother. I'm a mother of three small children, and I'm very concerned about their safety."

The forum also gave a platform to lesser known Democratic candidates like Theodore David Green, Daniel Kemph and Geoff Young. Young, a self-described "peace candidate" who has run unsuccessfully for the office twice before, used his opening and closing statements to call Amy McGrath a "war criminal" for serving in the Marine Corps in wartime.

The forum lasted for a little over an hour. The same organizations are hosting a forum for Lexington's mayoral candidates on May 7.

Primary Election Day is May 22.

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