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Defeating Thomas Massie is a long shot. Matt Lehman is taking his chances anyway

matt lehman, in a suit and tie, stands outside while leaning on a bridge
Lottie Shepherd

Matt Lehman of Newport, the Democratic candidate for Kentucky's Fourth Congressional District, knows the score.

And he knows it's stacked against him.

He's on his own taking on Republican incumbent Thomas Massie, the man who has made a national reputation as the "Mr. No" of Congress, voting against everything from the infrastructure bill to aide for Ukraine to being the one and only House member to vote against a resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

thomas massie
Susan Walsh

Lehman knows there will be no Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) swooping in to flip Kentucky-4 from red to blue, no armies of paid staff to run his get-out-the-vote effort.

"We're not going to get any help from the outside,'' said Lehman, the CEO and founder of a Louisville-based biotech company. "Me and my volunteers. We're on our own."

But Lehman is, as they used to say in the Obama campaign, "fired up, ready to go."

It is a very steep hill to climb in a district that gave Donald Trump 64% of the vote in 2020.

Massie was first elected in the Fourth District in 2012 and has easily won reelection since then, with vote percentages ranging from 62% to 71%.

His Democratic opponents were pretty much overwhelmed in the district. They had little money with which to buy name recognition or get out their messages.

That's where Lehman expects to be different.

He may not have the attention of the DCCC, but he does have the Good Government Group, the Cincinnati-based political consulting firm headed by former Democratic congressman Steve Driehaus, on board to kick start his campaign. And, although his campaign fund is only a fraction of Massie's, Lehman is working hard to catch up.

"I'm a guy who has started three different companies," Lehman said. "I have no problem begging for money."

Lehman has deep roots in Northern Kentucky — raised in Crescent Springs, graduated from Covington Catholic High School, lives now in Newport with his wife and three kids.

"I grew up here, born and raised in Northern Kentucky," Lehman said. "People here are good people. They just have a bad congressman."

He is a realist. He knows what he is facing.

"I don't mind being the underdog," Lehman said. "I kind of like it.

"There are lot of people who have been voting for Massie either because he has an 'R' by his name, or because they don't see an alternative," Lehman said.

His campaign is targeting not only Democrats and Independents but disgruntled Republicans who don't consider themselves part of what Lehman calls the "Thomas Massie-Rand Paul" wing of the Republican Party in Kentucky.

"I get a good reception from most of the people I meet," Lehman said. "I talk to people and they get excited. As if they are saying, 'So you're not an ax murderer? Fine, I'll vote for you.' That's how much they want to be rid of Thomas Massie."

Kentucky's Fourth Congressional District is a sprawling piece of real estate that stretches from the eastern suburbs of Louisville for nearly 200 miles to Ashland, taking in all or parts of 20 counties of the Commonwealth.

The population center, though, is in the three counties closest to Cincinnati — Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.

Massie, who lives on a cattle ranch in Lewis County with his four children and his wife, told WVXU he thinks his Democratic opponents misread the people of the district.

"Voters in Kentucky have given me the latitude to vote the way I want, even when I would vote against President Trump's agenda, because they know I do it as a matter of principle."

Sixteen times, Massie said, he has voted against bills and resolutions aimed at bolstering Ukraine — because, he says, he did not believe it was in the best interest of the U.S. to get involved, particularly in provoking Russia, a nation with nuclear weapons.

The devastation caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is very personal to Lehman. He used to work in bioscience in Ukraine and has many friends there.

There is emotion in his voice when he speaks of them.

"I really don't know how they are, what has happened to them," Lehman said. "It's very sad."

And that is why Lehman is so passionate when he talks about the "cavalier attitude" of Massie toward the tragedy in Ukraine and his refusal to vote for any legislation that would help.

"Thomas Massie has thumbed his nose at the people there and does the bidding of Vladimir Putin," Lehman said. "I really can't believe his view represents the majority of people in the Fourth District."

Massie was the only member of Congress to vote against four bills and resolutions aimed at Russia.

One was simply a resolution expressing support for Ukraine. He also voted against banning imports of Russian oil and suspending normal trade relations with Russia.

Massie bristles at the accusation that his votes make him a friend of Russia and Putin.

"Anybody who calls you a friend of Putin is not serious about the issue," Massie said.

Massie's vote against the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill — a massive piece of legislation that Ohio's Republican senator, Rob Portman, helped negotiate — really sticks in Lehman's craw.

"It was legislation that could directly benefit his own district, and he voted against it," Lehman said. "What was he thinking?"

Massie said the infrastructure bill had "too many superfluous things that weren’t about roads and bridges" — things like broadband expansion and electric car charging stations.

"Those are things that private companies can and do provide," Massie said. "The government shouldn’t be involved."

Infrastructure, Massie said, is why he asked to be on the House Transportation Committee when he first went to Congress.

"I told them, 'please put me on a committee where I can vote yes on spending,' " Massie said.

But he voted against the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which could, at long last, solve the problem of the overworked and aged Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Ohio with Massie's Northern Kentucky district.

Lehman wants to make sure Northern Kentucky voters know it.

"We're going to do a lot of billboards and there is going to be a great big one on the Kentucky side of the Brent Spence Bridge," Lehman said. "I want everybody to see it. I want them to know who will really work for them."

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.