Fighter pilot Amy McGrath wins Democratic primary in Kentucky swing district

Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot who launched a long-shot bid for Congress with a viral campaign video, won Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District.

McGrath’s primary opponent, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, called McGrath to concede the race just two hours after polls closed, McGrath campaign manager Mark Nickolas told HuffPost. Gray’s campaign manager confirmed the concession call to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

McGrath, who will face incumbent Republican Rep. Andy Barr in November, trailed Gray by as much as 40 points when he entered the race in December, according to her internal polling, but steadily gained ground in the ensuing months with a campaign that sought to paint her as an outsider running against Gray and the national Democratic establishment.

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Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot
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Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot
Amy McGrath, former U.S. Marine and Democratic congressional candidate for Kentucky, speaks during the 2018 MAKERS Conference in Hollywood, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. The event gathers industry leading females for roundtable discussions to help inspire the women of tomorrow. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Democratic Congressional candidate Amy McGrath speaks with voters during a campaign stop in Winchester, Kentucky, U.S., February 9, 2018. Picture taken February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Amy McGrath, former U.S. Marine and Democratic congressional candidate for Kentucky, speaks during the 2018 MAKERS Conference in Hollywood, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. The event gathers industry leading females for roundtable discussions to help inspire the women of tomorrow. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Cafe workers talk with Democratic Congressional candidate Amy McGrath, left, during a campaign stop in Campton, Kentucky, U.S., January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Patricia Schroeder, former U.S. Representative from Colorado, left, and Amy McGrath, former U.S. Marine and Democratic congressional candidate from Kentucky, laugh during the 2018 MAKERS Conference in Hollywood, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. The event gathers industry leading females for roundtable discussions to help inspire the women of tomorrow. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Gloria Steinem and Former U.S. Marine & Congressional Candidate in Kentucky Amy McGrath attend The 2018 MAKERS Conference at NeueHouse Hollywood on February 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS)
Amy McGrath, former U.S. Marine and Democratic congressional candidate for Kentucky, listens during the 2018 MAKERS Conference in Hollywood, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. The event gathers industry leading females for roundtable discussions to help inspire the women of tomorrow. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Chief Executive Officer, Oath, Tim Armstrong and former U.S. Marine and congressional candidate in Kentucky Amy McGrath speak onstage during The 2018 MAKERS Conference at NeueHouse Hollywood on February 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Former U.S. Marine & Congressional Candidate in Kentucky Amy McGrath attends The 2018 MAKERS Conference at NeueHouse Hollywood on February 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: (L-R) Chief Marketing Officer, Oath, Allie Kline, Former U.S. Marine & Congressional Candidate in Kentucky Amy McGrath and Founder and Executive Producer, MAKERS, Dyllan McGee attend The 2018 MAKERS Conference at NeueHouse Hollywood on February 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS)
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McGrath and Gray hardly differed on the issues. They opposed Barr’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which provides health insurance to tens of thousands of the district’s residents, and both supported expanding the law instead. They were largely aligned on other issues, including support for minimum wage increases and opposition to the sweeping Republican tax cut package that Barr supported in 2017.

But McGrath seems to have tapped into the same thirst for new political faces that has pushed newcomers ― especially women ― to victories in Democratic primaries across the country this year. 

Though she targeted rural voters outside Lexington, she also campaigned broadly as a progressive. She favors adding a public option to Obamacare, lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare and increasing federal funding for infrastructure and job programs in central Kentucky. She is in favor of abortion rights, is pro–LGBTQ equality and is vocally opposed to President Donald Trump’s efforts to ban transgender troops from the military and bar refugees from majority-Muslim nations from entering the country. 

Now she’ll face Barr, who first won the seat in 2012 and has cruised to re-election twice. Trump won the district by 15 points in 2016, but there have been positive signs for Democrats locally: Gray won a majority of the district’s votes in his unsuccessful 2016 bid to unseat Sen. Rand Paul (R), and this year Democrats flipped one state legislative seat in a special election in a Trump-supporting district. The DCCC added the 6th Congressional District to its list of targets in 2018 as it tries to flip at least 24 seats for Democrats to regain the House majority.

McGrath plans to continue her against-the-grain pitch to voters in the general election, Nickolas told HuffPost before the primary vote.

If she wins in November, she will be the first woman elected to represent the 6th District in Congress.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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