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Who Is Amy McGrath? Meet the Former Fighter Pilot Trying to Take Down Mitch McConnell

The Kentucky politician launched her campaign with a seriously bleak video urging for change and blaming Washington’s ugliness on Mitch.

by Kelly Vinett
Jul 9 2019, 9:58pm

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You might remember Amy McGrath, the veteran Marine Corps fighter pilot, for almost grabbing a Kentucky congressional seat from an incumbent Republican in a swing district last fall. Well, now she's going after an even bigger fish in her home state: Mitch McConnell.

The 44-year-old Democrat launched her campaign to unseat the powerful Republican Senate majority leader Tuesday morning with a seriously bleak video urging for change and blaming Washington’s ugliness on Mitch.

“It started with this man who was elected a lifetime ago, and who has, bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise,” she said of the six-term senator and staunch Trump ally. McGrath ruthlessly goes after McConnell, at one point recounting a letter she wrote to him when she was 13, telling him her dream was to fly fighter jets in combat and asking him to change the law so that women could be pilots in the military too. Apparently, he never wrote back to the young McGrath.

As of press time, her launch ad had 2.5 million views on Twitter.

But McConnell’s re-election campaign fired back at McGrath’s political comeback. “Team Mitch” tweeted, “Welcome to the race, Amy” along with a video denouncing her support of single-payer health care and pro-choice politics. Kevin Golden, McConnell’s campaign manager, has accused her of being “an extreme liberal who is far out of touch with Kentuckians.” But McGrath insists she’s a moderate and wants to get along with both sides of the political spectrum.

Here’s what you need to know about McGrath.

How she got here

Her first attempt to unseat a Republican was in the midterms last November, for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. It started strong, with her campaign-launch video touting her as a pioneering female pilot going viral and drawing national attention. She said her military service would help her "cut through" the discord in Washington if she were elected to Congress. And she went on to roast her opponent, Andy Barr, for campaigning to take healthcare away from over a quarter-million Kentuckians, adding that her mother was a polio survivor who went on to graduate from medical school.

McGrath’s soaring popularity and then nearly pulling off one of 2018's biggest upsets helped fuel the Democrats’ “blue wave” that swept the House, though she couldn’t quite manage to sway enough voters in the Lexington swing district to unseat Barr.

Fighter flyer

Serving 20 years in the Marines, McGrath was the first female pilot to fly the F/A-18 fighter jet in combat and flew 89 missions bombing al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Now retired, she lives in Georgetown, Kentucky, with her three children and lifelong-Republican husband — who couldn’t vote for her in the midterm primaries.

Though McGrath’s veteran status and online presence has made her a political force to be reckoned with, she told NPR in 2017, "People who know me personally know me as an introvert," she said. "I'm not somebody who seeks attention." But in her pursuit to defeat the most powerful person in the Senate, she might have to be in the spotlight.

The last time McConnell had a serious challenger was in 2008, a year that was bad for conservatives, when he beat the businessman Bruce Lunsford by a narrow 5.94% margin. But McConnell has endured for six terms and looks to have a seventh.

Schumer and Warren Stand By Her

Earlier this year, the top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York eyed McGrath as a legitimate contender and encouraged her to run. If she could use her female veteran status to become a top candidate and rake in $1.9 million for her 2018 congressional bid, perhaps she can build on that in 2020.

McGrath will have to reach beyond the Democratic base to win over reliably-red Kentucky, banking on her background as a veteran, relatability as a mother, and determination to force entrenched D.C. fixtures out of Washington.

In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday, she said her campaign strategy is to show the people of Kentucky that they cannot “drain the swamp” of the national government if McConnell is still in it. “Trump promised to bring back jobs,” she said. “He promised to lower drug prices for so many Kentuckians. That’s so important. Who stops him along the way? Mitch McConnell.”

Out of the gate, McGrath drew support from 2020 presidential contender Elizabeth Warren: After hearing about the Senate leader’s new competition, the Massachusetts senator tweet ed with words echoing her own campaign pitch point. McGrath, she said, “is a real fighter for working families in Kentucky and across the country.”

Cover: Amy McGrath, a Kentucky Democratic candidate for Congress, speaks to supporters during the 26th Annual Wendell Ford Dinner, Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. The former fighter pilot said that her military service would help her "cut through" the political discord dividing Washington if she's elected to Congress. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)