Heated race pits first-time female candidate against Trump-backed incumbent

Congressman Andy Barr and President Donald Trump exit the stage together during the make America great again rally on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, at Alumni Coliseum in Richmond, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

In a tight race, the Sixth Congressional District candidates are down to their final weeks of campaigning before the election.

As of Oct. 17, polling website FiveThirtyEight shows that the race is close, with incumbent Republican candidate Andy Barr ahead of Democratic candidate Amy McGrath by just two points.

According to Barr’s website, his largest concerns are national security, the opioid epidemic, financial services, economy and jobs, energy, healthcare, fiscal responsibility and veterans.

“The national liberal ‘resistance’ and extreme left are funding Amy McGrath’s campaign because she’ll be another vote for Nancy Pelosi’s liberal agenda,” Barr campaign spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker told the Associated Press.

According to McGrath’s campaign site, her biggest focal points are health care, foreign policy, sexual harassment, medical marijuana and legalization, guns, money in politics, climate change, teacher’s pensions, the opioid crisis and immigration. As a veteran, McGrath has also campaigned a great deal about the importance and value of the military.

“I spent 20 years as U.S. Marine and flew 89 combat missions bombing Al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” she said in an ad that aired in August 2017.

McGrath and her campaign has repeatedly said that she has refused to post attack ads against Barr, while Barr has posted nearly 20 against McGrath. The attack ads range from calling her “too progressive for Kentucky,” to accusing her of being pro-abortion until the end of the third trimester.

“The reason I have continued to run a race that is entirely focused on my values, on our values and the issues is because first, I trust the voters to see through this sad, worn-out tactic of negativity and lies,” McGrath said at her rally in Bath County on Oct. 12. “It is not who we are. Second, because we desperately need change in our political system, in our politics and our country. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

According to an article posted in the New York Times, Barr and supporting Republican groups have spent more $3 million in ads through Lexington alone.

The two have campaigned long and hard in their final months leading up to the present. The Sixth District race has gained national attention in recent months, particularly among McGrath’s campaign. While she is not the first to run, McGrath would be the first woman to represent Kentucky’s Sixth District if she wins.

‘Year of the Woman’

“Right now, there are more women in Afghan’s Parliament than women in Congress,” McGrath said in an interview with the Kernel at her rally on Oct. 12. “That’s sad to me.”

McGrath’s campaign has also gained attention on the national scale because of the large amount of women running. Many media outlets have called this election period the “Year of the Woman.”

“It’s definitely been stunning that there have been so many women who have come out to run in this election,” said Tiffany Barnes, UK associate professor of political science. “We know from previous research that women run in elections at much lower rates than men. When women do run for election they tend to be better qualified than their male competitors. Because of that, when women run, they tend to have equal levels of electoral success as their male competitors.”

Here on UK’s campus, students have noted the importance of this election, one of those students being political science major Olivia Antigua.

“As a woman who studies politics and cares a lot about the government it is so exciting to see women running,” Antigua said. “We are not equally represented on any level of government and this is just the start toward true equity.”

While many have recognized the amount of women running as important, Stephen Voss, a political science professor at UK, said he feels UK students are focusing more on the campaign these women are running than on their gender.

“I hear very little explicit discussion about what’s happening this election focusing on the gender of the candidates,” Voss said. “There’s a lot in the news and the editorial pages about the historic shift in who’s running. When I hear the students excited about Amy McGrath, for example they rarely, if ever, mention her sex as part of the appeal.”

Barr: A win for Republicans

If Barr were to win, Kentucky would remain represented mostly by Republicans. Currently, Kentucky is represented by five Republicans and one Democrat in the House of Representatives, and two Republican Senators, Rand Paul and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“To continue the greatest movement in the history of our country, or maybe any country, you need to vote Republican,” President Donald Trump said in a stump speech for Barr on Oct. 13. “On Nov. 6 I need you to get your friends, get your family, get your neighbors and your coworkers and get out and vote for Andy Barr.”

Barnes said McConnell’s status as Senate majority leader contributes to the high level of attention this congressional race is receiving.

“I think another reason this Kentucky election really catches national attention is because the Senate majority leader is from Kentucky,” Barnes said. “Right now Kentucky has a disproportionate amount of power in the Senate. For a small state to have so much influence is truly unprecedented.”

Students like Antigua want to encourage other younger generations to pay attention to elections outside of just presidential elections.

“There has been this constant narrative that our generation doesn’t care about anything,” Antigua said. “That we are selfish and that our voices don’t matter. Based off the people that I know and the generation of young activists rising on the internet, that stereotype is anything but true. College students are worried about their future, and if they want to be in charge of what happens, they need to vote.”

The Kernel reached out to Barr’s campaign for further comment about the election but had not received a response at the time of printing.

The general election will take place Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.