WASHINGTON -- Rep. Andy Barr's comparison of his job in Congress -- "where ideas matter" -- to his opponent's military service -- "where execution matters" -- kicked off a storm of controversy Thursday, and a request for an apology from a veterans' political group that endorses both Republicans and Democrats.
With Honor, which has endorsed Barr's Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath, called on Barr to apologize to McGrath and members of the military, accusing the Kentucky Republican of "devaluing their service."
"She put her life on the line flying 89 combat missions," the group said of McGrath. Barr, it added, "has served as an elected official in Washington, D.C. To equate the two is misleading."
Barr, in an interview published Thursday, said that he and McGrath had each served their country, though in different ways.
"I've served in a position where ideas matter," he told The New York Times. "My opponent has served her country in the military, where execution matters."
McGrath campaign manager Mark Nickolas said Barr's remarks were "spoken like someone who has never put his life on the line for his country."
On Friday, Barr responded with a statement, saying McGrath was "trying to distract voters' attention away from her extreme liberal ideas."
Barr added: "My record of respect and advocacy for our veterans is well known and irrefutable, and includes voting to reform the VA to increase access to community care, expanding the GI Bill, passing a bill to give survivors of military sexual trauma access to better care, increasing funding for the military to address the readiness crisis, giving our troops their highest pay raise in a decade and passing a bill to rename the Lexington VA in honor of two Kentucky World War II heroes."
National Democrats have identified Barr's seat as a potential pickup in November, and it has quickly emerged as a contentious contest. Barr last week launched an attack ad seeking to portray the former Marine fighter pilot as too liberal for Kentucky. That was quickly followed by three more ads attacking McGrath by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee with ties to House Republican leadership.
This time, the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge was quick to launch a salvo, calling Barr's remarks "absolutely revolting."
"There's no excuse for him to belittle the service of someone who served our country in uniform, and his disdain for the service of our veterans is outright shameful," said spokesman Andrew Bates.
Marisa McNee, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Democratic Party, suggested it was "insulting to our current and retired military members to suggest that wearing a suit and dining with bank lobbyists in Congress is the same as putting your life on the line for your country."
And state Rep. Dean Schamore, a Navy veteran, said the veterans he's served with "would all agree that while our service to the Commonwealth is important, it does not compare to those serving in active duty who are often in harm's way."
This article was written by Lesley Clark from the McClatchy Washington Bureau and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.