Rural women explain Amy McGrath’s big Kentucky win


Photo credit: Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times


Two weeks after Amy McGrath’s unlikely primary win in Kentucky’s 6th District—notching a W in all 18 rural counties and setting her up for a midterm showdown with GOP incumbent Andy Barr—the potential blue wave we keep hearing about nationally is finally beginning to emerge locally.

I live in Anderson County, a place where voters often feel invisible; a place where Republicans pocket our votes like spare change and Democrats can’t afford to waste their pennies. Seeing candidates out here is as rare as good wifi.

And yet, McGrath held several events here over these last many months, even as voters, skeptical of the attention, often approached her as more foe than friend. What was she doing here? Where was she on guns, on abortion and women’s rights, on healthcare and infrastructure and teacher salaries and pensions, on our horrifying opioid crisis? And if by some miracle she made it past the primary, what was her plan to defeat Barr?

We did our damnedest to rattle her, and failed. She kept coming back.

Billy Piper, former chief of staff to Senator Mitch McConnell, dismissed McGrath’s win outright. “I think that the Democrats,” Piper said, “have nominated the worst possible candidate they could have nominated.”

The worst possible candidate, really? Did Piper have a point? I decided to ask the Kentuckians least likely to be asked by Piper or anyone else: rural women.

Molly, a former schoolteacher: “When Lt. Colonel McGrath agreed to visit with a roomful of Anderson County Democrats early in her campaign I was surprised, but proud. I was also concerned that the ‘real her’ compared to her brilliant candidacy announcement, would be disappointing. But we got the real Amy, and she was great. And the best part? I was able to meet and talk with her five times, without leaving the county, and I met the same real Amy every time. She really did listen and learn.”

Pam, a retired physician: “You don’t have to be a politician to be well-read and well-informed with thoughtful ideas about how to improve our country. Amy broke a glass ceiling, as did her mother, yet does not carry a chip on her shoulder. She seems real when you meet her in person, and I think she can beat the Republican which is important. Plus, we have real infrastructure needs (like high speed internet) which have been ignored.”

Maxye, a former magazine editor: “Amy campaigned in every county in the 6th, and has offices in several of them. She was extremely visible and is very personable. I doubt that any of us has seen, much less met, any of the other candidates in person.”

Sallie, an environmentalist and former technical writer: “Anyone who meets Amy would be hard-pressed not to vote for her. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered such a powerful mix of earnestness, compassion, intelligence, and vigor. I liked all three of the major Democratic candidates, but she blew me away. She looks you in the eye, she listens, and she doesn’t shy away from expressing an opinion, instead of parroting some mushy political platitude. If she continues to connect personally with both rural and urban voters, I think she has a real chance to beat Andy Barr.”

Margaret, counselor to families suffering from addiction: “Amy focused on our area and the fact that we need to focus on our strengths. She was extremely well-informed and made me feel like she was a centrist. This is how you can win in Kentucky. This is our only hope. She seemed tireless and traveled to every area she could. We support her and will be volunteering to help her.”

Talking to these women, I am reminded of the opening lines in Judith Guest’s 1976 novel, ORDINARY PEOPLE. “To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principle. A belief of some kind. A bumper sticker, if you will.”

Billy Piper is wrong. We are believers out here in the rural counties. We have our principles. We count. And we are seeing a lot of bumper stickers that read: Amy McGrath for Congress.


You can find more information on Lt. Col. McGrath here.