By Hastings Wyman –
Third-term US Rep. Andy Barr (R) in Kentucky’s 6th District (Lexington, etc.) is facing a tough battle with retired US Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath (D), 42, the first female marine to fly an F-18 jet in combat. The contest is widely considered a toss-up, which is borne out by the latest poll, taken earlier this month by the New York Times. The survey showed Barr with a statistically insignificant lead of one point – 47% to 46%.
The money chase shows the same close race. At the midyear Federal Election Commission reports, Barr had raised $3,169,000 with $2,778,000 cash-on-hand. McGrath had received $3,025,000, with $734,000 on hand (she had already spent heavily to with the primary).
Barr and his allies have launched a series of tough attack ads that have had some effect.
“She was ahead 50% to 43% in her own poll” several months ago, says Al Cross, veteran chronicler of Kentucky politics, but decreased some four points as a result of the attacks, which feature videos of her making impolitic statements at public events. “She has a loose tongue,” says Cross. One attack ad shows a clip of McGrath telling a fundraiser in Massachusetts, “I am more progressive than anyone in the state of Kentucky.” Cross adds that the attacks have not hurt her more because “She has an air of celebrity that somewhat insulates her from these attacks.” The attacks, says Democratic consultant Dale Emmons, “are directly out of Mitch McConnell’s play book. Scorched earth.”
Laura Glasscock, editor and publisher of the Kentucky Gazette, says
“I’m hearing she’s going to keep a positive campaign, with no attack ads,” and her ads so far show her, for example, with her mother and her children. Says Cross, “Her staff doesn’t want her to act like a typical politician.”
“There has been no independent Democratic money for her so far,” says Glasscock, “But there are Democratic TV ad buys from mid-October through the election. Probably for attacks on Barr.”
McGrath may also benefit from a measure of dissension in GOP ranks. “There are pockets of Republicans not happy with Barr,” says Glasscock. “He has had some issues with constituent services and some anti-Trump Republicans.”
Former Navy combat veteran and retired astronaut Mark Kelly campaigned in the district for McGrath. Kelly is the husband of former US Rep. Gabby Giffords (D), who left Congress after being shot and seriously injured at a townhall event. He is campaigning for pro-gun control Democrats. This may help McGrath in Lexington, a university town, but not in the rural pro-Trump counties.
But the Big Enchilada is coming to the district to campaign for Barr. President Trump, who carried the district by 15 points in 2016 and still has a positive approval rating in the district, is likely to have a major impact on the race, though observers differ on his precise effect.
Will Trump motivate his base to turn out for Barr substantially more than his presence will be an incentive for the Democratic base to vote? At this point in this tumultuous time, it’s anybody’s guess.
More problematic for Barr may be the unpopularity of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. “Every time he opens his mouth he steps on his tongue,” says Emmons. Bevin has crossed swords with teachers, state employees and retirees, and has threatened to discontinue some of their benefits.
According to a survey released in July by Morning Consult, Bevin is the fourth most unpopular governor in the nation, with an approval rating of 29%, to a 57% disapproval rating.
Democrats appear to be more united. While the Democratic Primary was hard-fought, McGrath won 3-way race that included Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who came in a strong second. Gray has since held a fundraiser for McGrath.
It’s a tough call. Stay tuned.