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Kentucky congressman draws challenge from prominent attorney

House Oversight and Reform Committee
Posted at 4:19 PM, Jan 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-10 18:11:49-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Todd McMurtry, an attorney who represented a Kentucky student embroiled in media lawsuits after a viral encounter with a Native American activist, stepped forward Friday to challenge U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, setting up an intraparty fight in a solidly Republican congressional district.

McMurtry filed to challenge Massie in the May GOP primary in the 4th District, a conservative bastion that spans the state's northern tier. McMurtry filed a few hours before the deadline for candidates to get their names on this year's ballot.

McMurtry described himself as a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and said he'd be a better ally than the veteran congressman.

“I’ve just seen that Thomas Massie is not a person that the president can rely upon,” McMurtry said in a phone interview. “Now is an important time in our country to stand behind the president."

Massie's office did not immediately return a phone call or email seeking comment.

Massie was among three Republicans who recently voted for a Democratic-backed resolution asserting that Trump must seek congressional approval before engaging in further military action against Iran.

During the debate, Massie said his vote wasn't a reflection of support for Trump, noting he voted for the president and will do so again. Instead, he said, it revolved around Congress exercising its constitutional authority to “decide when and where our troops are going to be asked to give their lives."

“If we do go to war, it needs to be with the blessing and the support of the people and a mission that our soldiers can accomplish," Massie said. “And we do that by following the vision of our founding fathers — we debate it here on the floor of the House."

On Friday, McMurtry said Massie's vote on the war powers resolution “sealed my thinking and confirmed everything I had been thinking about his approach to Washington."

McMurtry has been part of Nick Sandmann's legal team after the Kentucky teenager became embroiled in an encounter with a Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. CNN recently settled a lawsuit filed by Sandmann, who claimed media organizations falsely labeled him as a racist following the well-publicized encounter.

McMurtry said he's a close friend of the Sandmann family, but acknowledged that publicity from helping represent Nick Sandmann “can't hurt" in building name recognition.

“Because of the enormous publicity given to that case, my reputation has benefited tremendously," he said.

McMurtry said he plans to put $100,000 of his own money into his campaign in the coming weeks and said he'd be willing to invest more. But he predicted he'll raise plenty of money from people looking for new representation in the district.

Massie was first elected to Congress in 2012 after serving as judge-executive in Lewis County. The congressman is a favorite among tea party activists and constitutional conservatives.

Two Democrats also filed for the 4th District seat — Shannon Fabert and Alexandra Owensby.

Meanwhile, in a Kentucky legislative race, a one-time aide to ex-Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton filed to run as a Republican for a state Senate seat held by a retiring Democrat. Adrienne Southworth is among five GOP candidates and one Democrat seeking the seat in the GOP-dominated chamber.

Southworth and another top Hampton aide were fired by then-Gov. Matt Bevin's office, prompting Hampton to sue the governor in seeking their reinstatement.

Kentucky's biggest race this fall will be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's quest for a seventh term. McConnell drew a whopping 17 challengers — seven Republicans and 10 Democrats — but the incumbent is heavily favored for reelection. Democratic candidates include Amy McGrath, a a retired Marine combat pilot who has raised nearly $17 million in her bid to unseat McConnell.