Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell drew a high-profile Democratic challenger on Tuesday, as Amy McGrath, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and combat pilot, announced she would try to unseat a Kentucky Republican she said was first elected “a lifetime ago.”
In an announcement video, McGrath cast McConnell as out of touch with his Kentucky constituents and blamed him for dysfunction in Washington, saying he has turned the capital into “something we despise.”
“I’m running for Senate because it shouldn’t be like this,” McGrath said in the three-minute video. “There is a path to resetting our country’s moral compass.”
McGrath narrowly lost a race last year against Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr (R-Ky.) and has remained in the political spotlight since. In December, she said she would not run for governor, heightening speculation that should would run for the Senate seat that McConnell has held since 1985.
McGrath, 44, opens her video by talking about her military aspirations when she was 13 years old.
“I wrote a letter to my senator telling him I wanted to fly fighter jets in combat, to fight for my country, and that women should be able to do that,” she said. “He never wrote back. I’m Amy McGrath, and I’ve often wondered how many other people did Mitch McConnell never take the time to write back or even think about.”
McConnell’s campaign responded with a video of its own, using McGrath’s words from her House race to portray her as “too liberal for Kentucky.”
The video included clips of McGrath calling President Trump’s proposed border wall “stupid,” advocating for single-payer health care and touting her abortion rights credentials.
She is also shown comparing the way she felt after Trump’s election in 2016 to the way she felt after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In a statement, McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden said McGrath has “a heckuva platform that we will be delighted to discuss over the next sixteen months.”
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol later Tuesday, McConnell said he looked forward to a “spirited race.”
“Since I became leader of my party, I get more attention than I used to,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) later praised McGrath’s entrance into the race.
“She’s a great candidate. She’s a great American,” he told reporters at the Capitol.
Schumer said he expects McConnell to wage an aggressive campaign against McGrath.
Later Tuesday, Trump weighed in on the race, citing McGrath’s 9/11 comparison.
“Why would Kentucky ever think of giving up the most powerful position in Congress, the Senate Majority Leader, for a freshman Senator with little power in what will hopefully be the minority party,” he said on Twitter. “We need Mitch in the Senate to Keep America Great!!”
While McConnell has been dogged by low job-approval ratings in his home state, he easily turned back his Democratic challenger the last time he was on the ballot, in 2014. In that race, McConnell prevailed 56 percent to 41 percent over Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
In an interview Tuesday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” McGrath said she was not running to be a “politician.”
“I’m doing this because I care about our country and I care about Kentucky, and we need people of courage to step up,” she said.