Outside the Republican Party of Kentucky’s annual Lincoln Dinner Saturday night, sprinkled in among the posters criticizing the Trump administration, Governor Matt Bevin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, were shirts and signs with a Democrat’s name: Amy McGrath.
The former fighter pilot has launched a formidable campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and her effort was repeatedly noted inside the state GOP’s largest fundraiser of the year.
“This is one of about 25 races in the country that will ultimately determine the majority in the next two years,” Barr said in a speech that repeatedly knocked McGrath as he touted his conservative credentials.
He talked about his support for the Republican tax bill and his trip on Air Force One with President Donald Trump. He talked about his efforts to fight the opioid crisis. He talked about strong borders and abortion and the fact that he’s a sixth-generation Lexingtonian.
And, of course, he called McGrath a liberal.
“Don’t be fooled, she is a partisan liberal,” he said to the room of elected Republican officials and their donors.
For the past few weeks, Barr has been attacking McGrath as too liberal for a district that Trump won by more than 15 percentage points. The attacks come as she has tried to pick up votes among registered Democrats and independents in rural areas of the district.
Every Republican speaker at the event talked about the importance of Barr’s race, including White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The White House press secretary may have attracted scores of protesters outside the event, but inside she was greeted to a standing ovation from a crowd she said was friendlier than she’s accustomed to.
“His very liberal opponent Amy McGrath is handpicked by Nancy Pelosi,” Sanders said. “...she’s a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi and the people here in Kentucky know better than to support the dangerous liberal policies of Nancy Pelosi and (U.S. Rep) Maxine Waters.”
There is no evidence that Pelosi recruited McGrath into the campaign, though her opponent in the Democratic Primary, Lexington mayor Jim Gray, was urged to run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But McGrath’s original outsider status with Washington Democrats hasn’t prevented them from lining up behind her after she won the primary.
She’s received support from elected Democrats throughout the country who hope to pick-up the seat on their way to retaking the U.S. House in November. But after an expensive primary, McGrath has needed all the money she can get to keep up with Barr, who had a $2 million financial advantage as of the last financial filing deadline.
Sanders urged the crowd to rally behind Barr as he fights to keep his seat in a race national pundits have labeled a toss-up.
“I know the difference of what showing up actually means,” Sanders said. “I know the difference of giving a check or putting a sign in your yard actually means. Or putting a bumper sticker on your car. I know the risk that each of the people in this room take every single day and I commend you.”
Barr likely added to his fundraising coffers Saturday with a “Women for Barr” event he held earlier in the day with Huckabee Sanders as the featured guest.
Mark Nickolas, McGrath’s campaign manager, was dismissive of Sander’s visit.
“We hope she enjoyed her short visit to bluegrass country,” Nickolas said.
Sander’s isn’t the first from the White House to visit the district and won’t be the last. Earlier this week, the White House said Trump plans to come to Kentucky in the next six weeks.