Amy McGrath, a Marine veteran, was a Democratic sensation during her unsuccessful Congressional run last year

By Colleen Cronin
July 10, 2019 03:15 PM
Vivien Killilea/Getty

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t faced a significant election opponent since first winning his Kentucky Senate seat 35 years ago, by less than 1 percent.

Amy McGrath, a Marine veteran and Democratic sensation during her unsuccessful Congressional run last year, hopes to change that.

She reportedly raised more than $2 million in the first 24 hours after her announcement on Tuesday that she will seek to challenge McConnell in near year’s election.

McGrath, 44, said in a video announcing her candidacy that the 77-year-old Republican “has, bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise, where disfunction and chaos are political weapons, where budgets and health care and the Supreme Court are held hostage, a place where ideals go to die.”

Under the arcane rules of the Senate, McConnell has long wielded extensive legislative powers, often at odds with President Barack Obama (and famously blocking his pick to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in an unusual breach of norms).

In a nod to Kentucky’s ruby red roots, McGrath also argued “a lot of what has stood in the way of what Donald Trump promised is Sen. McConnell.” (She has previously spoken out against Trump.)

After she entered the race, McConnell’s campaign responded with its own video about her and his campaign manager labeled her an “extreme liberal who is far out of touch with Kentuckians,” according to The New York Times. Still, McConnell is deeply unpopular nationally, according to polling earlier this year.

Here’s what you need to know about McGrath.

Amy McGrath.

She’s a Fighter — Literally

A former fighter pilot, to be exact. McGrath was the first woman to fly an F/A-18 fighter jet in combat, according to CNN.

After studying political science at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, she spent 20 years in the Marines and flew 89 combat missions in the United States and Afghanistan, according to her website.

In 2016, she was named to the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame and has been the recipient of numerous military awards.

Her husband, Erik Henderson, is also a retired Naval pilot.

Before retiring to her home state of Kentucky, McGrath reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. In her announcement video this week, as noted by the Times, McGrath reprised a jab at McConnell for seemingly ignoring her when she was a child and wrote to his office about wanting to be a female fighter pilot.

Clockwise from top left: Erik Henderson and Amy McGrath with their children, Eleanor, Teddy and George.
Amy McGrath Twitter

Mother of Three

McGrath and Henderson have two sons and one daughter: Teddy, 7, George, 5, and 3-year-old Eleanor.

On social media, McGrath often posts about the family’s escapades, which range from baking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brownies, to campaigning in Halloween costumes.

‘The Reason I Am Successful’

McGrath’s mother, a psychiatrist who contracted polio at 10, is a pioneer in her own right.

Physically limited by her disease, Dr. Marianne McGrath still pursued a medical degree when few women were admitted to medical school. She was the first woman to graduate from the medical school at the University of Kentucky, according to McGrath’s website.

The former marine saw her mother’s struggles as a means of motivating herself.

“She’s the reason I am successful in anything,” McGrath told the Times during her 2018 run for Congress.

Her mother told the Times she only saw her daughter become more likely to run for office since the rise of President Donald Trump: “The more I heard of it and the more I thought of it, ‘Oh, damn, she’s going to want to get caught up in doing something about this.’ ”

Her Platform

When running against Rep. Andy Barr last year, in a race she lost by about 3 percent, McGrath campaigned on issues like health care and against Trump. (She was catapulted into the spotlight with a campaign spot that went viral.)

Though she said she supports the Affordable Care Act, McGrath did not embrace her more liberal colleagues in also calling for a government-backed health care system that would eliminate private insurance or in saying immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally should receive publicly subsidized health insurance.

Her website describes her message in succinct fashion: “Anti-corruption. Anti-obstruction. Anti-B.S.”

A spokesperson told the Courier-Journal she was “ready to work with a president of any party who is willing to put the interests of working Kentucky families ahead of special interests.”

Though she has widespread Democratic support, McGrath will have to win her primary before facing off against McConnell.