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Amy McGrath Tries To Overcome Suddenly Competitive Primary

Amy McGrath
Courtesy Amy McGrath
Amy McGrath

Amy McGrath was the first woman to fly an F/A-18 fighter jet in combat. She flew 89 missions during her 20-year military career, worked as a foreign affairs adviser in Congress, then worked in the Pentagon and finally became a Naval Academy instructor.

To top off her impressive credentials, at age 13 she wrote Mitch McConnell to ask that he help undo the federal policy that banned women from fighting in combat.

But, as she said in her campaign announcement last summer, “he never wrote back.”

McGrath returned to her native Kentucky in 2017 to run for Congress in a race she narrowly lost to incumbent Rep. Andy Barr. And then her storybook resume caught the eye of national Democrats looking to topple McConnell in 2020.

The Senate’s minority leader Chuck Schumer openly courted her to run and Senate Democrats’ campaign arm endorsed her, helping her raise an eye-popping $41 million as of earlier this month.

But from the beginning, she’s done things that have distanced some would-be supporters.

One of McGrath’s first moves when she launched her Senate campaign was to say she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Within hours she had retracted the statement.

A few days later she explained it an interview.

“I had actually never been asked that question on the campaign trail, you know, how would you vote, and so again in the moment I just said, well he’s qualified, we have a president who nominated him and that’s how I answered," McGrath said.

McGrath had actually made several public comments about Kavanaugh's confirmation process in 2018. She said she believed Blasey Ford’s sexual misconduct allegations were “credible” and called Kavanaugh a “hardcore partisan” who was against reproductive rights.

Now McGrath is one of ten Democrats vying to take on McConnell this year. She’s had a big name recognition and fundraising advantage over her opponents for most of the race, but at times her impressive background has been overshadowed by potential missteps.

Policy-wise, McGrath is a moderate. She’s not in favor of Medicare For All or the Green New Deal, but she is in favor of a public option for health insurance, protecting abortion rights and repealing the Republican tax bill that passed in 2017.

She’s shied away from criticizing President Donald Trump and gone so far as to accuse McConnell of getting in the way of the president’s agenda.

“The things Kentuckians voted for Trump for are not being done. He’s not able to get it done because of Sen. McConnell," McGrath said in an MSNBC interview last year.

Trump is popular in Kentucky and in many ways, McGrath’s strategy is similar to how Democrats have run statewide races for years.

Gov. Andy Beshear managed to not weigh in on the president’s actions too much during his successful campaign last year. And back in 2014, McConnell’s opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, refused to even say whether she voted for President Barack Obama.

Still, McGrath might have coasted through the primary if not for the recent surge of state Rep. Charles Booker amid protests over police violence in his hometown of Louisville and across the country.

One of the key moments during the race took place during a debate on KET earlier this month when McGrath was asked why she didn’t show up to protests.

“I think that, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so we also have to look at, is that the place we should be right now," McGrath said.

Booker pounced on the moment, airing an advertisement that contrasted McGrath's response with a soundbite of him delivering a speech to a crowd in the middle of the protests in Louisville.

Since then, support has poured in for Booker. He has nabbed key endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and even the last Democrat to challenge McConnell, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

McGrath has, for the most part, avoided directly attacking her primary opponents, with the exception of one tweet.

"Congratulations Charles on your fundraising," McGrath wrote last Friday. "Now you will have the resources to actually provide health insurance to your staff and pay your interns $15/hr like we do?"

Booker responded by saying voters would remember that she’s against guaranteeing healthcare as a human right.

“Your tweet won’t hit the way your consultants think," Booker wrote.

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