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‘Humbled’ by encouragement, Amy McGrath doesn’t rule out challenging McConnell

Will Amy McGrath run again in two years? Watch her answer.

Amy McGrath spoke to the press after giving her concession speech to supporters. U.S. Rep. Andy Barr won re-election in Kentucky's Sixth Congressional District.
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Amy McGrath spoke to the press after giving her concession speech to supporters. U.S. Rep. Andy Barr won re-election in Kentucky's Sixth Congressional District.

Former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, whom Democratic groups are hoping will challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, didn’t rule out a run against the Kentucky Republican at a veterans’ event here Thursday.

“I’m going to take a look at everything and make a judgment on where I can best serve the country,” said McGrath, who narrowly lost a Kentucky congressional race in 2018 and has emerged as a top pick for national Democrats eager to take on McConnell.

McGrath said she was “humbled by the encouragement to run again” — which has come from Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and several progressive and veterans’ groups.

McConnell doesn’t yet have a Democratic opponent and seems unlikely to face a repeat primary challenger as he did in 2014. But he remains a top target for national Democrats, who still fault him for blocking consideration of Merrick Garland, then-President Barack Obama’s choice for a Supreme Court vacancy.

McGrath narrowly lost a bid last November to oust Rep. Andy Barr, R-Kentucky, following a campaign in which Republicans sought to depict her as out of step with conservative Kentuckians. The first-time political candidate was able to turn a district that Trump won by more than 15 percentage points into a toss-up with Barr, even as she refused to run traditionally negative campaign ads.

She mostly sought to keep her distance from national Democrats throughout the race, touting her military record and the fact that she was once a registered independent.

A McConnell-McGrath match-up could serve as a presidential proxy battle: Trump held a campaign rally for Barr in Kentucky, weeks out before the election — arriving a day after former Vice President Joe Biden, who appeared with McGrath at a fish fry near Lexington.

McGrath stuck up for Biden — who Thursday launched his campaign for president — after several women said he had rattled them by invading their personal space. McGrath tweeted that she believed he was “honest, humble, and cares deeply about our country.”

McConnell has made it clear that he’ll run as closely tied to President Donald Trump as he can get. His campaign video, released last week, includes footage of Trump at the Kentucky rally hailing McConnell as a “rock-ribbed Kentucky leader.”

McConnell has already raised $2.1 million in the first three months of the year, a record for the veteran senator that puts potential challengers on notice that he plans an aggressive effort as he campaigns in a state where Trump remains popular, more popular than the six-term senator.

Democrats believe the party’s anti-Trump fervor could help its candidates. VoteVets, a group that backs progressive candidates who once served in the military, is running ads asking people to encourage McGrath to challenge McConnell.

McGrath spoke Thursday night at a McClatchy event on veterans highlighting The War Within, a documentary series that looks at the lingering effects of war among returning Afghanistan war veterans. It was produced by McClatchy Studios on Facebook Watch.

The War Within

The War Within

She and Jennifer Silva, the chief program officer at the Wounded Warrior Project, took questions from the audience at a panel discussion moderated by joined Kristin Roberts, executive editor for Washington, McClatchy.

McGrath said she eagerly accepted the invite to join the program to help reduce the stigma of post traumatic stress disorder and to increase awareness about what she called the “invisible wounds of war.

“The starting point of this is awareness among the American public, the scope and the scale and the cost of war,” McGrath said.

McGrath said she experienced excellent care at the Lexington VA, but noted the federal program that cares for veterans operates under “regulation and resource constraints” daily.

“It’s something that our leaders need to tackle,” she said, adding “I’m afraid we don’t have enough members of Congress that are veterans who understand these issues.”

She said the VA in Lexington has “three people doing the job of seven. They are making do, but if I were a member of Congress from that district, I’d be jumping up and down every day.”

She also criticized Congress for allowing the White House to wage war without seeking approval from Congress. The war in Afghanistan has been waged under a 2001 authorization passed by Congress in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“It’s frustrating, it’s something our founders really wanted,” she said. “I feel like Congress has punted and that they’ve punted for a long time.”

She noted it was “one of those things I wanted to try to change,” adding “we need to keep holding our leaders accountable. We need to have better leaders, I’ve been saying that for awhile.”

She had to set one audience member straight who addressed her as a member of Congress.

“I lost,” she said.

The panel was preceded by three of the veterans featured in the series.

They included Assal Ravandi, president of the Academy of United States Veterans, an organization that holds the Vettys, an annual awards ceremony for veterans; Davon Goodwin, an Army veteran, who struggled with narcolepsy and anxiety after surviving an IED explosion in Afghanistan and former Marine Scott Whisler, who was diagnosed with PTSD and volunteers with Team Red White & Blue, where he leads fitness events for other veterans in Tacoma, Washington.

“As a community it’s just about being there for each other,” Whisler said.

The War Within documentary series is part of McClatchy’s War Within Initiative, which has wiped clean more than $5.4 million in medical debt for military service members, veterans and their families through its nonprofit partner, RIP Medical Debt.

“Our viewers and readers were inspired by their stories,” said McClatchy CEO Craig Forman.

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