Amy McGrath’s video announcing her bid to represent Kentucky’s 6th District was so powerful, Politico immediately declared that it represented “[w]hat House Democrats want 2018 to look like.” She was a political novice. But her recounting of how she busted the glass ceiling for female fighter pilots, told on a tarmac while wearing a bomber jacket, led to 2 million YouTube views and just as many campaign dollars. She faced a proven vote-getter in the primary, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who ran for Senate in 2016 and outperformed Sen. Rand Paul in the district. But McGrath’s newfound star power was too much for him.
McGrath didn’t have a skeleton in her closet. But she was a political amateur not used to tightly controlling her words. The campaign of her Republican opponent, Rep. Andy Barr, managed to get audio from a Massachusetts fundraiser in which McGrath declared, “I am further left, I am more progressive, than anybody in the state of Kentucky”—it became the signature at the end of several of Barr’s attack ads. And McGrath’s assessment of Donald Trump’s proposed border wall as “stupid” was too blunt for the district, and also became an attack ad staple. (More successful Democratic candidates steered clear of such controversial statements in order to keep attention on health care.)