Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot who rose to national prominence last year in her failed campaign for Congress against Republican Andy Barr, is turning her sights on a new target: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In a three-minute video released Tuesday, McGrath said McConnell has “bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise.”
“I’m running for Senate because it shouldn’t be like this,” McGrath added.
McGrath’s candidacy marks a significant recruiting coup for Democrats. She emerged as an unlikely fundraising juggernaut in her congressional race, bringing in millions of dollars after her campaign released a biographical video that went viral, and becoming a Democratic celebrity in the process.
McGrath will have her work cut out for her, however. President Donald Trump won Kentucky by nearly 30 points in 2016, and his presence at the top of the ticket in 2020 will likely help drive Republican voters to the polls
McGrath failed to win her House race in 2018 against Barr, who won by about 3 points, despite being outspent by McGrath by nearly $3 million.
McGrath acknowledged to CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” that McConnell is “a very formidable foe.”
She said she understands why Kentucky voted for Trump, and that many of his campaign promises – draining the swamp, creating jobs, doing “big things” in infrastructure and lowering prescription drug prices – are being delayed by McConnell.
“A lot of these things are being halted by Senator McConnell,” she said.
Kentucky, she said, is “tired of the swamp” and the “dysfunction” and people in the state “don’t like both political parties.”
“Folks like Senator McConnell who have been around for 34 years are not the answer,” McGrath said.
She said part of Trump’s appeal was that “he was an outsider,” and said, “I’m an outsider too.”
In the race against McConnell, McGrath appears poised to run as a moderate seeking to break the partisan gridlock in Washington. In an interview Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” McGrath said she had watched the Democratic presidential debate and was concerned that many candidates were positioning themselves too far to the left on issues like health care.
Meanwhile, McConnell has shown himself to be a canny and ruthless opponent. In 2014, he beat back a much-hyped rival, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, in a 15-point victory.
McConnell’s team welcomed the challenge from McGrath.
“Amy McGrath lost her only race in a Democratic wave election because she is an extreme liberal who is far out of touch with Kentuckians,” said McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden. “Comparing President Trump’s election to 9/11, endorsing a government takeover of healthcare, and calling the wall ‘stupid’ is a heckuva platform that we will be delighted to discuss over the next sixteen months.”
On “Morning Joe,” McGrath conceded that McConnell “has been formidable” after more than three decades in the Senate. But, she added, “this is a different race.”
“The things that Kentuckians voted for Trump for are not being done,” McGrath said. “He’s not able to get it done because of Mitch McConnell.”
McGrath brings to the race a compelling biography, as the first woman Marine to fly an F-18 fighter jet in combat. In the video announcing her Senate bid, McGrath recalled writing a letter to McConnell as a 13-year-old girl, asking him to change the law that, at that time, barred women from such missions.
“He never wrote back,” McGrath recalled.
CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.