WASHINGTON — EMILY’s List and NARAL, eager to spend record amounts to boost women and abortion rights advocates in the fall elections, are staying out of Kentucky — where one of the nation’s most prominent women candidates is running in one of the country’s most hotly contested congressional races.
Neither group is spending money — or even mentioning in congratulatory or fundraising press releases — Amy McGrath, the high profile Marine veteran seeking to topple Republican Rep. Andy Barr.
McGrath supports abortion rights but elected not to seek the EMILY’s List endorsement because the group’s abortion rights agenda wasn’t a “rationale” for her race. She’s had the same policy with other national groups, said Mark Nickolas, her campaign manager.
“What drove her into this race was health care, jobs and making sure no one gets left behind,” he explained. “Certainly these issues are of importance, but she’s been consistent that her focus in this race are issues that face voters every day.”
EMILY’s List has endorsed nearly 50 women congressional candidates and incumbent members of Congress, including several in states President Donald Trump won in 2016, such as Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Missouri and Florida.
EMILY’s List is “thrilled to see strong women like Amy with compelling personal stories and deep ties to their communities running in districts across the country and wish her the best of luck,” said Julie McClain Downey, the group’s senior director of campaign communications.
Two days after McGrath won the May 22 Democratic primary, NARAL announced it would launch its largest ever midterm political program, with plans to spend $5 million in 19 states, including Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Kentucky was not included. NARAL did not return several requests for comment.
A former Marine fighter pilot, McGrath has made an exception for veterans’ groups such as Vote Vets.Org Action Fund, a political action committee that backs veterans running for office, and With Honor, which is backing Democratic and Republican candidates.
McGrath won the Democratic primary against Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, the party establishment choice, and has pointed to the distinction to cast her campaign as independent from the party.
But soon after her primary victory last month the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named McGrath to its “Red to Blue” program, which brings organizational and fundraising support — and underscores that the district is one Democrats are eying as they hope to regain control of the House.
McGrath had said in an interview in November that she is aligned with “everything EMILY’s List aligns with.” But the decision to stay clear of the national groups that support abortion rights could be a smart move in Kentucky. During the recently-wrapped legislative session, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a law further restricting abortion. Kentucky is one of six states with a single abortion clinic.
The lack of involvement from the national groups is not stopping Barr from trying to tie McGrath to abortion.
Opening his campaign office in Lexington on Friday, Barr proclaimed himself “pro-life” and claimed McGrath was “pro-abortion to the ninth month.”
EMILY’s List absence from the race shows McGrath’s campaign “knows how deeply out of step their candidate is with Sixth District voters on this issue compared to a pro-life champion like Andy Barr,” said Jodi Whitaker, a Barr spokeswoman.
McGrath told a Lexington radio station in April that although she was Catholic, “in America, we have a very strong tradition of personal liberty and for the government to come in and say to a woman ‘We are going to tell you what you need to do with your body’ .. I believe that we should protect the woman’s right to chose.'”
The race comes amid efforts by state lawmakers and Gov. Matt Bevin to further curb abortions in the state, including imposing new restrictions on abortion during the recently-completed legislative session. The 2018 law, which the Republican-led legislature overwhelmingly passed, would ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation.”
The ACLU immediately challenged the law and it is on hold, pending a trial that is scheduled to start a week after the Nov. 6. election.K
entucky is one of six states, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia, and Mississippi with a single abortion clinic. The Kentucky clinic and its physicians are plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit.