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Amy McGrath, a Soaring Democratic Candidate, Is Brought Back to Earth on Election Day

RICHMOND, Ky. — At five a.m. on Election Day, Mark Nickolas aroused from sleep to write a speech he idea would by no means be delivered.

Mr. Nickolas, the marketing campaign supervisor for Amy McGrath, one of the crucial Democratic Party’s maximum high-profile applicants for Congress, briefly drafted a 400-word concession, revealed it, sealed it in an envelope, after which deleted it from his pc.

He had was hoping to burn it after Ms. McGrath claimed victory. Instead, at eight:28 p.m., he pulled out the envelope and passed it to her.

Ms. McGrath’s loss to Representative Andy Barr on this central Kentucky congressional district made bright the yawning divide between rural America and the remainder of the country. Her marketing campaign’s election type referred to as for her to win 57 p.c of the vote in Fayette County, house of the district’s biggest town, Lexington, and the University of Kentucky. She gained virtually 60 p.c.

But she underperformed in Franklin County, house of the state capital, Frankfort, and extra essential, Mr. Barr ran up the ranking within the district’s 17 rural counties. As with such a lot of of the country’s House districts, the agricultural stretches weren’t receptive to the marketing campaign pitches that drove city and younger electorate.

“If you can’t win here, nobody can,” Ben Chandler, the remaining Democrat to cling the seat, stated to Ms. McGrath as he hugged her.

A former Marine struggle aviator and Naval Academy graduate, Ms. McGrath was once idea to be the type of Democrat who would draw in each city and rural votes. She raised more cash than her opponent. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. campaigned for her in a rural space.

But the hill was once at all times going to be steep. Republicans have a 10-point partisan benefit within the district, which President Trump carried by way of 15 proportion issues and Mr. Barr by way of 22 in 2016.

Shortly after the election of Mr. Trump, she mentioned working with Mr. Chandler, who then presented her to Mr. Nickolas, whom she persuaded to come again into politics after 9 years operating as a documentary filmmaker. He, in flip, contacted the advert maker Mark Putnam, and he agreed to take on a House race, an abnormal transfer for the reason that he had labored on former President Barack Obama’s campaigns and essentially statewide races.

Mr. Putnam was once drawn to a speech that Ms. McGrath had given when she was once inducted into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame and recounted what it took for a lady to achieve success within the army. “She said you have to be tough,” Mr. Putnam stated. “It came out on her face. The hair went up on the back of my neck. I said, ‘This lady has something special.’”

The speech was once the muse for a marketing campaign release video in August 2017 that quickly went viral and catapulted Ms. McGrath to prominence. She raised greater than $2 million and surprised the Democratic Party in Washington by way of simply defeating Jim Gray, the preferred mayor of Lexington, in the principle.

Ms. McGrath proved to be a robust fund-raiser, bringing in additional than $6 million for the autumn marketing campaign, giving her sources to open box workplaces in all 19 counties, purchase 1000’s of backyard indicators, mail 10-page shiny brochures to electorate, run tv advertisements nonstop, or even purchase 30,000 Hershey’s candies, custom-wrapped along with her marketing campaign brand, to give out at Halloween.

She additionally quietly embarked on a shuttle that took her to the border with Mexico on July 1 and a couple of, a fact-finding challenge arranged by way of some other retired Marine, Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts. They recorded photos of the talk over with, however didn’t notify any information media.

Heading into August, her marketing campaign aired its first advert, a sure spot that reminded electorate of her biography. At that time, her personal polling confirmed she had a seven-percentage-point lead.

In mid-August, Republicans struck again with a snowfall of assault advertisements from each Mr. Barr and the Congressional Leadership Fund, the sanctioned tremendous PAC of Speaker Paul D. Ryan. It was once an promoting blitz by no means observed prior to that early in an election cycle. The advertisements painted her as “too liberal” for Kentucky and an acolyte of Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. After two weeks, her polling confirmed that she was once down 5 issues and had misplaced toughen amongst non-college-educated ladies.

Ms. McGrath stated that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suggested her to reply by way of attacking Mr. Barr, recommendation she rejected. “I didn’t want to do that,” Ms. McGrath stated. “I am so tired of that kind of politics. I wanted to see, well, can we stay ahead, do we have a shot if we don’t do that, if we can just be positive.”

Mr. Putnam added, “Our feeling was that if we let this race devolve into the typical nationalized campaign where we were trying to hit him on the same old tactics, we would lose.”

But the advertisements did wound her. “I get that sense when I go into a Walmart or a Kroger, and I don’t know anything about them, but I feel like they’ve already judged me and that’s hard,” Ms. McGrath stated.

Instead, her marketing campaign countered by way of working 3 advertisements on the similar time — referred to as triple monitoring — all with a sure tone, emphasizing house movies along with her 3 kids and the tale of her mom, Marianne, a doctor who could also be a polio survivor. Within two weeks, her marketing campaign’s polling had her again within the lead.

In early October, as the talk over Mr. Trump’s coverage of circle of relatives separation made headlines, Ms. McGrath aired an advert about her border shuttle and wrote an op-ed for native newspapers. Her marketing campaign believed that helped inoculate her because the president whipped up his base with caustic rhetoric in regards to the migrant caravan heading to the border.

The McGrath marketing campaign had deliberate for the controllable occasions, however now not for such things as the eruption of Republican ire over the affirmation hearings of Justice Brett M. Kavanagh. After that combat, Ms. McGrath’s lead dropped from 11 issues to seven in her marketing campaign polls. Two weeks later, that lead had gotten smaller to 3.

Then the migrant caravan began.

Campaign officers began to run her advert in regards to the border with higher frequency than Mr. Putnam had ever utilized in a congressional race. Internal polling had Ms. McGrath’s lead protecting at two issues in the course of October, and two issues in her ultimate marketing campaign survey on the finish of October.

Then Mr. Barr aired an advert with a Kentucky sheriff in uniform announcing that Ms. McGrath was once for open borders. Ms. McGrath referred to as it “extreme” bunk.

Still, she entered Election Day assured of victory, and so did her marketing campaign staff. It booked a suite for her and best marketing campaign officers and circle of relatives at a resort in Richmond. She and Mr. Putnam huddled for greater than an hour to pass over what she was hoping could be her victory speech.

Early returns appeared sure. But Mr. Nickolas quickly noticed a annoying pattern. While Ms. McGrath was once beating her objectives in Fayette County, she was once lacking them in Franklin, and Mr. Barr was once doing a lot better than the McGrath marketing campaign forecasts in rural spaces. Ms. McGrath stared on the returns on Mr. Nickolas’s pc. Her mom, brother and sister had been there, too.

Soon her face appeared grim. She paced the room. And in any case, Mr. Nickolas reached down for the envelope and passed it to her.

On Wednesday, Mr. Nickolas was once undeterred by way of the loss. Ms. McGrath, he stated, must “give some serious thought” to working for governor subsequent 12 months.

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