FRANKFORT, Ky. — A retired fighter pilot is running for Congress in Kentucky's 6th District, joining several other military veteran candidates as part of a broader Democratic strategy to challenge Republican rule in the 2018 midterm elections.
Amy McGrath announced her candidacy Tuesday in an online video, wearing a bomber jacket and standing with a fighter jet behind her. The Kenton County native retired from the Marine Corps in June at the rank of lieutenant colonel following a 20-year career where she flew 89 combat missions, including bombings targeting al-Qaida and the Taliban.
McGrath is one of several military veterans to run for office as a Democrat following Donald Trump's election last year. They include former Air Force officer Chrissy Houlahan in Pennsylvania, former Army Ranger Jason Crow in Colorado and former Marine Dan McCready in North Carolina.
But McGrath said she was not recruited to run by party officials.
"I want to make that very clear. I was never recruited by the Democratic Party. I recruited them," she said. "I believe that veterans running for office is good for the country in general, no matter what party."
She said Trump's 2016 victory inspired her to run for office, saying it caused her to rethink "what it is to be an American."
"I've been a public servant being in the military my whole life. I just felt like this is where my country needed me next," she said.
McGrath is the third Democrat to announce her candidacy for the seat. Reggie Thomas, a state senator from Lexington, announced his candidacy last month. And Geoff Young, who has run for the seat twice before, is also running.
All of them hope to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in the general election. Barr's seat has been on Democrats' wish list ever since he defeated a Democratic incumbent in 2012 by harnessing the power of coal politics and Kentuckians' disdain for former President Barack Obama. Barr has easily won re-election twice since then and has challenged the notion that he represents a Democratic-leaning district that includes Kentucky's second-largest city.
But this year Barr has had to answer to voters angered by his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act, which provided insurance to more than 440,000 people by expanding the state's Medicaid program. In April, hundreds of people showed up at one of Barr's town hall meetings to yell at him about voting for repeal.
"Congressman Barr is not focused on the Democrats' intra-party fight, especially a year before the 2018 primary election," said Rick VanMeter, Barr's spokesman, said in response to McGrath's candidacy.
McGrath said she plans to make health care a key part of her campaign, pledging to stop "any of these crazy health care bills that Republicans have been proposing." Barr has dismissed criticisms of his vote, noting that 58 percent of the district voted for Trump in November.