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Crowd chants “Moscow Mitch” and waves Russian flags at Fancy Farm event
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
FANCY FARM, Kentucky (CFP) — In a sign that the derisive nickname recently attached to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be taking hold in the political zeitgeist, a boisterous crowd of Democrats greeted him with chants of “Moscow Mitch” and waved Russian flags Saturday during his appearance at Kentucky’s famous Fancy Farm political picnic.
Kentucky Democrats, who have been raising money by selling Russian-themed merchandise targeting the Senate leader, kept up the pressure at Saturday’s picnic, attended by a who’s who of Bluegrass politics, with shirts and signs connecting McConnell to Russia in the wake of his decision to derail election security bills in the Senate.
A popular poster on the picnic grounds showed McConnell in a Russian military uniform, above the tagline “Spread the Red, Comrade.” One woman was even sporting a Russian fur hat in the 90-degree heat.
Note: Video of McConnell’s remarks at Fancy Farm follows this story.
“That’s a rookie mistake from someone who’s not a rookie,” said Robert Kellems from Hancock County, who posed for photographs with a cartoon he was carrying showing McConnell as a turtle with an onion-dome shell. Kellems also noted the turnabout at play, pointing out that “the president seems to think name calling is OK.”
McConnell — who earlier in the week had pushed back against the “Moscow Mitch” gibe as “McCarthyism” — did not address the controversy in his remarks to the picnic, as the Democrats on hand booed and chanted throughout. He did gesture toward the protestors when he noted that “Washington liberals” angry with his role in pushing through Trump’s Supreme Court picks “responded by targeting me.”
Noting that he is the only top leader in Congress not from New York or California, McConnell told the crowd, “I’m the guy who sticks up for middle America and for Kentucky.”
“[Democrats] want to turn America into a socialist country. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are never going to let that happen,” he said. “That’s why I call myself the Grim Reaper — I’m killing their socialist agenda.”
McConnell also took a shot at his most high-profile Democratic opponent in his 2020 re-election race, referring to Amy McGrath as “Amy McGaffe” over her recent rocky campaign rollout in which she first said she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and later reversed herself.
McConnell then joked that McGrath, who did not attend the picnic “sends her regrets. She’s still working up an answer on Brett Kavanaugh with her friends at MSNBC.”
McConnell supporters wearing “Team Mitch” shirts warmed up the crowd by parading through with giant cutouts of Kavanaugh and President Trump’s other Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, to be greeted with waves of the “Moscow Mitch” chant.
McGrath cited a previous commitment for not attending the Fancy Farm picnic. If she had, she would not have gotten the chance to address the crowd because under the rules for the event, only elected officials and candidates running for state offices in 2019 are invited to speak.
The picnic draws thousands of partisans from across Kentucky to Fancy Farm, a town of 500 on the far western side of the state that has hosted the event on the first Saturday in August every year since 1880.
The picnic is a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, which was founded by Catholic settlers in the 1830s.
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Race pits retired Marine fighter pilot with fundraising chops against the most powerful Republican in Congress
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
LEXINGTON (CFP) — After nearly unseating a sitting Republican congressman in 2018, Democrat Amy McGrath has set her sights on a much bigger target in 2020 — the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The retired Marine fighter pilot announced July 9 that she will challenge McConnell next year, setting the stage for a marquee Senate battle with national implications that will submerge 4.5 million Kentuckians in a sea of negative advertising.
McGrath pulled no punches in her opening campaign video, saying the senator “was elected a lifetime ago and has, bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise … a place where ideals go to die.”
“There is a path to resetting our country’s moral compass, where each of us is heard,” she said. “But to do that, we have to win this.”
McConnell’s campaign responded in kind, launching a website. “WrongPathMcGrath.com,” and posting a video on Twitter featuring comments McGrath made in her 2018 race, including saying that “I am further left, more progressive than anybody in Kentucky” and comparing her feelings after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 to how she felt after seeing the towers fall on 9/11.
“Welcome to the race, Amy,” read the McConnell campaign’s tweet atop the video.
McGrath’s decision to take on McConnell was a win for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democratic leaders who had been recruiting her for the race. But she will face the most formidable force in Kentucky and national politics, who easily swatted away both primary and general election challenges in 2014.
McGrath, 44, who grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs in northern Kentucky, is a Naval Academy graduate who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine fighter pilot. After retiring in 2017, she returned to Kentucky to seek the 6th District U.S. House seat against Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr.
She raised more than $8.6 million for that race, thanks in part to a video about her life story that went viral, and dispatched a better-known candidate in the Democratic primary before losing to Barr in November by less than 10,000 votes.
Her decision to run for the Senate is good news for Barr, who won’t face a rematch. He has yet to draw another major Democratic challenger.
McConnell, 77, is seeking his seventh term in the Senate; when he was first elected in 1984, McGrath was just 9 years old. He has led Senate Republicans since 2007 and became majority leader in 2015 after the GOP took control.
McConnell, a frequent object of wrath from Trump partisans and some Tea Party groups, has drawn a GOP primary challenge from former State Rep. Wesley Morgan, from Richmond, who has said McConnell “embodies everything that is perverted in Washington D.C.”
However, it is unlikely Morgan — who endorsed a Democrat for his House seat after losing a Republican primary in 2018 — will be able to mount a substantial primary challenge against McConnell, who in 2014 swatted away a much more serious challenge from now-Governor Matt Bevin.
In 2014, Democrats had high hopes of unseating McConnell with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. But in the end, McConnell won by 15 points.
Given McConnell’s stature and McGrath’s fundraising prowess, the 2020 race is likely to feature an avalanche of outside advertising in a small state with just two large urban areas and four television markets.
In 2014, McConnell and Grimes spent a combined $50 million, or about $11 for every man, woman and child in the commonwealth. And those figures don’t include spending by outside groups.
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Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.
Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.
The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.
Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.
Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.
And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.
Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give
Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.
The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)
Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.
Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.
Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.
He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.
Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.
One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.
However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.
McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.
Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.
Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.
Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.
The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.
Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.
All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.
Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.
Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.
Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.
Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.
Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.
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Recent poll shows Republican Governor Matt Bevin vulnerable to Democratic challenge
LEXINGTON, Kentucky (CFP) — Amy McGrath will not seek Kentucky’s governorship in 2019, despite the urging of supporters who wanted the rising Democratic star to jump into the race against Republican Governor Matt Bevin, whose sagging popularity has made him vulnerable.
In a December 19 email to supporters, McGrath said she was “humbled by the encouragement” to get into the race but decided not to seek the governorship or any other statewide office next year.
“That doesn’t mean I’ll stop working for the values and beliefs we all care about,” she said. “I deeply wish to help move Kentucky and our country forward and I can assure you that I will continue to speak out on the important issues of the day.”
She went on to win the Democratic primary and raise $8.6 million for the race, the most by any Southern Democratic House challenger in the 2018 election cycle. In the end, she lost to Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr by 9,700 votes.
McGrath’s potential candidacy for governor faced a possible hurdle — Kentucky’s Constitution requires six years of continuous residence to run for governor, and McGrath had lived out of state during her military service before returning to run for Congress.
Had she run, the courts would have likely decided if McGrath’s out-of-state military service disqualified her.
However, that state requirement would not bar her from seeking federal office again — including the U.S. Senate seat held by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2020.
Bevin announced in August that he plans to run for re-election in 2019. However, he has yet to file the paperwork needed to begin raising money for the race.
A Mason-Dixon poll taken Dec. 12-15 found Bevin’s approval rating at 38 percent, with 53 percent saying they disapproved of the governor’s performance. A year earlier, his approval was 45 percent in the same poll.
Earlier this month, the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously struck down a pension reform bill crafted by Bevin and Republicans in the legislature, which sparked angry protests by teachers and state employees when it passed last spring.
Bevin then called lawmakers into special session to push through the pension measure again, only to see GOP leaders adjourn after one day without taking any action, which the governor criticized as “one of the worst financial days to have ever descended down on the Commonwealth.”
The legal fight to overturn the pension law was led by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is running to unseat Bevin. The Mason-Dixon poll showed Beshear with a 48 percent to 40 percent lead over Bevin in a hypothetical match-up, right at the poll’s margin of error.
Also in the Democratic race is House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins from Sandy Hook. The biggest unknown is whether Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes will run now that her father, Jerry Lundergan, has been indicted on charges of illegally funneling money into her 2014 U.S. Senate campaign.
Grimes, the only Democrat other than Beshear to hold statewide office, has not been implicated in the case. But her father’s trial is scheduled for August, right in the middle of the campaign.
Kentucky is one of five states that elect their governors in off years, along with Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and New Jersey. Among those states, Mississippi and Louisiana are also up in 2019.
While Republicans hold most state and federal offices in Kentucky, and President Donald Trump carried the commonwealth by 30 points in 2016, Democrats have had more success winning the governorship.
Bevin is just the third Republican elected governor in the past 50 years, and no Republican has won re-election since the Constitution was changed in 1992 to allow governors to succeed themselves.
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Republicans still have 2-to-1 advantage and hold the line in North Carolina, upper South
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
(CFP) — With all races now decided, Democrats have made a net gain of 10 U.S. House seats across the 14 Southern states in the November 6 election.
While that total was an improvement over their results in 2014 and 2016, Democrats flipped only about a third of the seats they targeted, and Republicans will still hold a 2-to-1 advantage in Southern seats when Congress reconvenes in January.
Democratic gains were centered in suburban areas around major cities, including Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Richmond, Miami, the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia. They also carried a district that contains metro Oklahoma City and another that includes Charleston and the Low Country of South Carolina.
However, Democrats went 0-for-4 in targeted seats in North Carolina, 2-for-9 in Florida and 2-for-8 in Texas. They also fell short in targeted races in the upper South states of Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia, where Republicans continue to hold 12 out of 13 House seats.
Among those losses was in Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath could not pull out a victory despite raising an astounding $7.8 million, more than any other Southern challenger in this election cycle.
Democrats did win five of the six GOP-held Southern seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016; the lone exception was in Texas’s 23rd District, in West Texas, where Republican Will Hurd won a narrow victory. Democrat Lucy McBath also ousted Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District, where Donald Trump won by just 1.5 points in 2016.
Four Republican House members, with a combined 48 years of service, went down in the Clinton districts, including Pete Sessions and John Culberson in Texas, Barbara Comstock in Virginia, and Carlos Curbelo in Florida. Republicans also lost in Florida’s 27th District in Miami-Dade, which U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had held for 30 years before deciding to retire.
Democrats kept all of the 40 seats they held going into the election. With the 10 Democratic gains, Southern Republicans will hold 102 seats to 50 for Democrats when Congress reconvenes in January.
In the last Congress, just 13 white Democrats who were not Latino or Asian represented Southern districts. That number will go up to 20 in January, as seven white Democrats displaced Republicans.
Hurd, who represents a majority Latino district, will be the only African-American Republican in the new House. Three Southern Republicans are Latino — Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Bill Flores of Texas, and Alex Mooney of West Virginia, whose mother is Cuban.