But in a dramatic turn, not only did McGrath win, she bested the Republicans. McGrath got 48,859 votes to win 48 percent of the Democratic primary’s 100,418. But McGrath’s votes alone beat the entire Republican turnout of 48,372.
So while Republican incumbent Andy Barr easily won his renomination, even without the party unifying around McGrath, she still has a lead of nearly 500 votes over all Republicans — including the incumbent and his challengers.
And to think, she was polling 47 points down in December.
How did McGrath win so big in Kentucky when everyone had counted her out? CNN and the New York Times both drew attention to her time as a fighter pilot and four of Heavy’s five things you should know about her were her military resume, but McGrath was also running a deeply progressive campaign.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hand-picked her millionaire opponent, Lexington mayor Jim Gray, who fits the Blue Dog mold the DCCC has doubled down on in its primary picks. Gray criticized Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) for not being tough enough on national defense and took staunchly pro-coal stances when running against Paul for Senate in 2016.
But McGrath thought that was a mistake on Democrats’ part.
“Recruiting the same types of big-city, older millionaires is not the future,” she said. “Especially in the Democratic Party, we cannot keep relying on a stable of rich white people, old men, to save the Democratic Party.”
McGrath, meanwhile, campaigned on universal healthcare, a support for a constitutional campaign finance reform amendment and aggressively fighting climate change among other campaign themes.
“When elected, I will do everything I can to educate my colleagues in Congress of the critical importance of this issue for teachers in states like Kentucky, and will help work to make this a more fair system moving forward. I promise to have your back, when I get there,” she said.
And with a 500-vote lead against the entire Republican field combined, her use of “when” seems less like ambition and more like a declaration today. Now, a former Marine aviator and someone who only six months ago seemed like she had no chance is a serious threat to incumbent Andy Barr.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.