Amy McGrath

Amy McGrath

FRANKFORT — Retired U.S. Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath made it official Tuesday, announcing in a two-minute video she plans to run for Congress from Kentucky’s Sixth District currently represented by Republican Andy Barr of Lexington.

McGrath, 42, grew up in Edgewood outside of Covington before spending 20 years in the U.S. Marines, becoming the first female Marine to pilot FA-18 fighter planes in combat and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before retiring June 1 and moving with her husband and three young children to Georgetown in Scott County.

She joins state Sen. Reggie Thomas, 64, of Lexington, who announced in July he’s also running for the Democratic nomination. Still reportedly considering the race are Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Colmon Elridge, a former advisor to then Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

CNHI News first reported in April that McGrath was considering the run for Congress.

In the video, McGrath describes her battle to become a fighter pilot at a time when women were prohibited from combat duties and recounts her military service as she walks along a tarmac with fighter jets in the background. Then, she pivots to Barr and their differences on healthcare, which she previously told CNHI News she views as a right.

“Now I’m running for Congress against Andy Barr in my home state of Kentucky,” McGrath says. “He’s Mitch McConnell’s handpicked congressman who said he would vote enthusiastically to take healthcare away from over a quarter million Kentuckians.”

Barr voted for the GOP House plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which has provided insurance to more than 500,000 Kentuckians for the first time.

Healthcare also been the focus of attack from Thomas who promised at his announcement to “make sure every Kentuckian has affordable health insurance.”

McGrath talks about her mother’s fight to become a doctor in the video, tying her mother’s struggles to her own fight to become a woman combat pilot: “A lot of people told her she couldn’t achieve her dreams either.”

Now, McGrath says, some say a Democrat can’t win the Sixth District. The video ends with a close up of McGrath responding: “We’ll see about that.”

Barr spokesman Rick VanMeter said Barr is focused on his congressional responsibilities, not 2018.

"Congressman Barr is not focused on the Democrats' intra-party fight, especially a year before the 2018 primary election,” said VanMeter. “Instead, he is focused on fighting for the values and interests of the people of the Sixth District in Congress, keeping his promises and doing the job he was elected to do. There will be a time in the future for politics, but now is the time to do the work of the American people."

Thomas has also emphasized his ties to Lexington and the district, indirectly suggesting McGrath is moving back to Kentucky only to run for office.

“My decision to run for the United States Congress is rooted in a lifetime of service to the people of the Bluegrass regions,” Thomas said in a statement released by his campaign consultant Leo Haggerty. “I grew up here, worshipped here, and it has been my deep honor to represent my friends and neighbors in the Kentucky State Senate. I want to welcome Lt. Col. McGrath to the area. I think she will find, as I have, that people will be warm and welcoming.”

McGrath has previously said she anticipates charges of “carpetbagger” and points to her military service on behalf of her country for her absence from the state.

“I would have loved to have been able to live in this district for the past 20 years,” she said. “I was off doing what was asked of me as a Marine. I spent a year of my life living in a tent in the Middle East and flying missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. You can’t do both. I chose to serve and protect our country abroad.”

Both Thomas and McGrath have said they anticipate a primary and both say it will be good for whichever Democrat emerges to challenge Barr.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.

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