In the end, it happened just like Amy McGrath said it would. When I asked the recently retired Marine Corps fighter pilot last month why she thought she had a shot at winning the Democratic primary in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District, she pulled out a map and started highlighting the counties surrounding Lexington, the district’s population hub.
“We’ve got to get somebody that can get these counties back—I can do that,” she said. “Everywhere I go, all these counties are hugely patriotic—huge fans of military and service—and there’s an instant connection there. I’m not gonna be able to win them all, maybe, but people are listening to me in ways that they’re not going to listen to Jim Gray.”
Gray, the mayor of Lexington, was her seemingly formidable opponent. The wealthy, popular, former US Senate candidate had been encouraged to run—much to McGrath’s frustration—by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, DC.
But McGrath’s campaign believed turnout would spike in the rural counties because of local races for offices like jailer and judge. So she invested heavily in rural field offices, billboards, and advertisements in small-town weekly newspapers. She mailed out a 32-page economic plan that leaned hard on the rural development—everything from broadband access to turning tobacco into a bio-fuel. When the results came in on Tuesday night, McGrath won her primary by 8 points, winning everything but Lexington.
And then something funny happened. McGrath, who had spent much of the last six months trashing the DCCC, was suddenly being promoted as one of the organization’s rising stars. DCCC chairman Ben Ray Lujan, a New Mexico congressman, heralded McGrath as “battle-tested in more ways than one” and stated that “there is no question that Amy can flip this district.” It pushed out an internal poll showing McGrath leading the Republican incumbent, Andy Barr, by 15 points.
This is how Washington-based campaign committees say, “Uh…sorry?”
It was a pretty good metaphor for how the much-hyped Democratic civil war has gone so far this year. In races across the country, outsider candidates have turned the DCCC into a piñata, accusing the national organization of butting into primaries and picking winners and losers. But it’s not always so clear cut.
It's not, but there's two factors here: one, McGrath is yet another Democratic veteran running on their service record, in McGrath's case, as America's first female Marine F-18 combat fighter pilot. Veterans do well in rural America, especially in the Midwest, and the one thing Democrats have done well this cycle is recruit veterans from all walks of life and all branches of the Armed Services.
Second, the DCCC is still terrible and Ben Ray Lujan is only slightly less incompetent than Steve Israel was before him. McGrath should steer clear of letting them try to run her campaign, because they will definitely try to take over. She knows what she's doing, and she knows how to win in this district.
I only wish she was running in KY-4 instead of Seth Hall, but I'd take a moldy ham sammich over Thomas Massie at this point.