As the nation reels after a week of hate crimes, Democrat Amy McGrath is working to keep the focus of her House campaign local.
McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot, is challenging incumbent Republican Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District, a seat with Democratic roots that went red in 2012 when Barr rode in on an anti-Obama wave. McGrath addressed the Saturday attack on a Jewish synagogue — the latest in a string of hate crimes including the killing of two black people, Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones, in Kentucky just minutes after the suspect unsuccessfully tried to enter a predominately black church — during her campaign stops this weekend. But the first-time candidate advised supporters to stick to the “bread and butter” issues in the final stretch.
“It’s so sad this type of thing is happening and continues to happen in our country in places of worship,” McGrath said, after attending Sunday service. “It emphasizes to me how important leadership is all the way at the very top … how important [it is] what you say, what leaders say and what you don’t say.”
Still, with nine days to go, McGrath has urged her volunteers to talk about healthcare. After campaigning for years to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have done an about-face on the issue, telling voters that they want to protect people with pre-existing conditions . Barr voted repeatedly to repeal the ACA and the Trump administration supports a lawsuit that would declare the law unconstitutional.
“Healthcare is still what’s on people’s minds,” McGrath told canvassers in Versailles this weekend. “No matter what the opposition is going to try to divert our attention to, whether it’s national news or other things, it really does come down to getting folks the healthcare they need and protecting fellow Americans and fellow Kentuckians.”
Democrats in competitive races across the country are invoking similar strategies, hammering Republicans on healthcare as the president runs on the migrant caravan and newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Conspiracy theories suggesting Jewish billionaire George Soros is funding the caravan have come under renewed scrutiny after the synagogue attack.
“It’s time to elect leaders who are not going to divide us and who are going to try in good faith to work through some of the issues that we have in our country,” McGrath said in Richmond.
McGrath recently asked undecided voters if the migrant caravan is one of their concerns ahead of Election Day. To her surprise, voters in the rural reaches of the district said no, instead raising the issue of care for the elderly and protections for pre-existing conditions.
When talking to undecided voters — McGrath doesn't think there are many left — she asks them to “look beyond the headlines” and attack ads. Barr has flooded the airwaves with ads hitting McGrath for her answers on abortion rights. McGrath’s team issued more campaign literature than most, distributing copies of her 30-page economic plan for the district. Though McGrath refers to a lack of presidential leadership, she never mentioned him by name in a two-day canvassing dash last week.
But for Democrats in the district, which stretches from Lexington out to surrounding small towns and rural communities, their vote for McGrath is about much more than healthcare. They’re tired of male lawmakers setting the agenda in Congress, they see McGrath as a role model for their children, and they want a check on President Trump.
Laurie Eidson was one of many women to bring her children to canvassing launches to see McGrath. Her triplet daughters wanted to meet the veteran for their birthday, Eidson said, becoming emotional while talking about McGrath’s candidacy. The 36-year-old mother is voting for McGrath because she is “setting a good example for my daughters.”
Eidson also wants to be sure her daughters' pre-existing conditions — they were premature babies — continue to be covered.
Ronald Saia, 77, a former Barr voter, said he likes that McGrath is a veteran and a woman. “We need to get all the men out of government,” Saia said.
Terry Hume, 64, a retired school teacher living in Anderson County, is voting for McGrath because she wants a representative who will be a “role model for young children.”
“The Kavanaugh hearings really sent me over the edge,” said Hume, a Democrat. “Members of Congress have to speak out, and they have to speak out for people who aren’t all white men.”
To win, McGrath needs to drive up turnout in Democratic hubs like Lexington and chip away at Barr’s stronghold in the rural parts of the district. Aside from a recent rally with former Vice President Joe Biden, McGrath isn’t welcoming much outside help. She’ll be joined for one event by Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton before Nov. 6. Her campaign has turned down appearances with Seth Meyers and Anderson Cooper, keeping her sit-down interviews limited to local press. A recent New York Times poll, which included a notably small sample of millennials in a district with multiple universities, put McGrath 1 point behind Barr.