Female Marine Vet Upsets Heavily Recruited Democrat In Key House Race Primary

speaks onstage during The 2018 MAKERS Conference at NeueHouse Hollywood on February 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images North America

Marine veteran Amy McGrath (D) has upset Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D) in a key House race primary, becoming the latest female political neophyte to knock off a more established male politician in a Democratic primary this year.

McGrath led Gray by 49 percent to 41 percent with 95 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has called the race.

She’ll face Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) in a GOP-leaning district centered on Lexington that national Democrats are bullish about winning this November.

McGrath made a big splash when she jumped into the race with an impressive campaign video highlighting her experience as a fighter pilot that kickstarted her fundraising in a big way. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had long dreamed of convincing the well-liked Gray to run for the seat, and kept recruiting him to run even though McGrath’s campaign was already underway.

The race definitely pitted a more establishment candidate against an outsider — Gray had been his party’s nominee against Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in 2016, and carried the district in that race, while McGrath has never run for office before. But neither candidate ran particularly hard to the left, as has happened in some other establishment-versus-outsider Democratic primaries this year.

And while national Democrats had begun the race preferring Gray, they’d become increasingly impressed with McGrath’s campaign — enough so that the DCCC stayed officially neutral in the race.

“She’s shown she can mount quite a campaign,” Rep. Jim Yarmuth (D-KY), who sources say helped talk Gray into the race, told TPM late last week. “People are taking her a lot more seriously than they did early on.”

Republicans sought to paint her as a hardline progressive in the wake of her victory.

“Despite their best efforts, national Democrats were unable to stop radical liberal Amy McGrath from squeaking her way through the primary,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said in a statement. “When even the DCCC thinks you’re too liberal for the District, that’s an insurmountable problem. The NRCC looks forward to Andy Barr’s reelection.”

But national Democrats were less concerned about her liberal views as her being an untested candidate — a concern she’s allayed in this primary win. And they will likely invest heavily to help her campaign this fall.

“Battle-tested in more ways than one, Amy McGrath ran a tremendous race to win this competitive primary and could not be in a stronger position to win in November,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a Tuesday evening statement. “Amy has built a formidable campaign, and voters across the district have responded to her message of leadership and standing up for affordable health care. With her inspiring record of service and all of the momentum at her back, there is no question that Amy McGrath is ready to flip this key district.”

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