How a Kentucky congressional race could showcase Democrats' national split

David Catanese, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — It’s the well-connected white state Senate leader with high praise for retiring Rep. John Yarmuth against the Black female state representative who wants to cause “good trouble” as the next member of Washington’s rambunctious squad.

The race for Kentucky’s suddenly open 3rd Congressional District seat is setting up to showcase some of the same ideological and demographic fissures that are currently splitting Democrats in Washington.

And the winner of the Democratic primary for the Louisville-based seat next May will serve as a weather vane for the direction of the party both in Kentucky and nationally.

“I have never been the establishment or status quo Democrat. I challenge my own political party to do much better, especially by young people and women and people of color,” said Attica Scott, who jumped in the race in July as a primary challenger to Yarmuth before his announced retirement.

Scott, the first African American woman to serve in Kentucky’s General Assembly in two decades, is running as a pure progressive in the same vein of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Missouri Rep. Cori Bush.

“I would hope they would welcome me into their ranks to be a member of the Squad,” she told McClatchy in an interview, framing her campaign as a test for primary voters. “It’s going to bring into question all of those people who last year were saying, ‘Listen to Black women, stand with Black women.’ It’s going to question whether or not they actually meant those words with action, not just words.”


Whereas Scott had no heads-up about Yarmuth’s retirement, Morgan McGarvey received a day’s notice through a phone call. That gave Kentucky’s Senate Democratic Leader a little time to line up a list of endorsements and hit the ground running as the first candidate to launch after Yarmuth went public with his decision.

In an interview, the third-term McGarvey lauded Yarmuth as a “fantastic congressman” and said the top priorities for voters in the race should be preserving the longtime Democratic seat and sending a proven leader to Washington.

“We’re losing a big presence and you definitely want someone with the experience to go in who on Day One will at least be able to start effectively working for the district,” McGarvey said. “The things I’ve learned in Frankfort here are the two most important things you can say are ‘I don’t know’ and ‘What do you think?’ — to go and listen to people.”

While McGarvey is considered the early favorite, he’s already been told by friends he can’t take anything for granted. And with the filing deadline not until January, the field is likely to grow for a seat that hasn’t been seriously contested in 16 years.


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