Amy McGrath’s Primary Win In Kentucky Shows That Every District Is In Play

Photo: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images.
Tuesday night’s elections — with primaries in places like Georgia and Kentucky, as well as runoff elections in Texas — felt like a dream. Practically every major race that analysts reported on had women candidates in it.
We had the “battle of the Staceys” come to an end in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, where progressive Stacey Abrams came out victorious and became the first black woman to earn a major party nomination for governor in U.S. history. We saw Gina Ortiz Jones, who aims to be the first openly gay, Iraq War veteran, and Filipina-American to represent Texas, win her runoff in the state’s 23rd congressional district; she’ll take on Republican Representative Will Hurd this November in a race that Democrats have on the flip list. A highly contested race also unfolded in Texas’ 7th congressional district between Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and Laura Moser, with Fletcher coming away with the “W.”
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But the race that was most exciting to watch came earlier in the night — and it was the Democratic primary win of Amy McGrath in Kentucky’s 6th congressional district.
To say McGrath had an uphill battle is an understatement. Polling in December revealed that she was 47 points behind her opponent, Jim Gray. Gray also posed a challenge as the popular mayor of Lexington, Kentucky who was free from notable scandal and had similar issue stances. McGrath, a retired veteran of the Marine Corps, was a political newcomer compared to Gray’s decade-plus in politics. And to top if off, Gray had the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who’d encouraged him to run in the first place.
So, how did McGrath close that gap? For one thing, her viral campaign announcement video last summer helped her raise over $1 million in campaign contributions, which she later doubled to $2 million. But when it came down to it, McGrath beat Gray handily in the rural districts surrounding the district’s main city of Lexington. In fact, as NBC National Political Correspondent Steve Kornacki noted, some rural counties saw residents turn out to vote at rates more than double what they were for the Democratic presidential primary in 2016 between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. All told, over 100,000 Democrats voted in the primary compared to the 48,000 Republicans who voted in the contested primary of Representative Andy Barr. Obviously, McGrath struck a nerve. And on a larger scale, Democrats in the district felt like their votes mattered.
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McGrath’s campaign personifies what we’re seeing as the primaries continue this spring and into the summer and fall: Americans are excited about the new candidates entering these races, and the idea that politicians have to fit a certain mold — typically an old wealthy white guy with a law degree and a political background — is starting to give. McGrath also took a path less traveled to secure her nomination (usually focus is put on urban centers, where more votes are), and it only goes to show that normal campaign conventions don’t always hold.
The even better news is, Democratic strategists reportedly feel confident in her abilities to take on Representative Andy Barr this fall. She’ll have as good a chance as any Democrat in a conservative state like Kentucky. It’s a reminder why it’s so important that all of these women are running: They give the American people the ability to really choose who they want to represent them instead of having to select a default.
This week, Kentuckians said they wanted a glass ceiling-shattering retired Marine Corps combat pilot, while Texans in the 7th congressional district voted for a more mainstream moderate Democrat in lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. Meanwhile, Democrats in Georgia overwhelmingly supported a progressive push in nominating former Georgia House of Representatives Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. None of these candidates are exactly the same, nor do they come from similar backgrounds. Isn’t that the beauty of democracy?
Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29 and the founder of political volunteer network Get Her Elected. Follow her on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.
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