Contenders, pretenders and what’s next

Betty BeanFeature

Last year, Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath kicked in the doors to the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club with a TV commercial announcing her intention to run for the Sixth Congressional District seat held by Republican Andy Barr, personal pal of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Normally, Democrats don’t fare any better in Kentucky than they do here in Tennessee, but the commercial was striking enough to land McGrath on national TV almost as soon as it aired.

See it here.

The video’s message enabled McGrath, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and 20-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran, to raise a quick $2 million, something no opponent of McConnell’s pal had ever been able to do. McGrath went on to score an upset win in her primary and is now the Democratic nominee. If there is a Blue Wave coming, she’ll be riding it.

Meanwhile, down in Texas, another Democrat made a badass commercial. In the opening scene, M.J. Hegar displayed a heavily tattooed upper arm. The body art serves to camouflage heavy shrapnel scars.

Hegar was an Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot and the second woman awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor. Her medevac helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, and despite being wounded, she managed to execute a successful hard landing. And when there were too many staff and patients to ride aboard the Army helicopter that came to their rescue, she strapped herself to the skids and returned enemy fire as they lifted off. She was also awarded a Purple Heart.

See the commercial here.

After the crash, she was medically disqualified from flying or applying for other combat positions. She joined three other women and sued the Defense Department to end the Military Exclusion Policy, and in 2013, it was repealed.

Last year she published a memoir, “Shoot Like a Girl.” This year she’s running for Texas’s 31st District Congressional seat, now occupied by Tea Party Republican John Carter, who refused to meet with Hegar when she was just a constituent. Like McGrath, Hegar has been showered with campaign donations after the commercial aired and Carter’s “safe” district is starting to look blue around the edges.

Which brings us to Republican Ashley Nickloes.

One of seven contenders in the Republican Primary for Tennessee’s Second Congressional seat, Nickloes, a Tennessee Air National Guard lieutenant colonel who bills herself as a combat aviator, tells a story of breaking into the military pilot business that is more Nancy Drew than Top Gun.

She told a Washington Post columnist that she got her foot in the door by starting out as a flight attendant, sucking up to pilots and behaving herself in bars. The column, written by the award-winning Kathleen Parker (a “Never Trump” Republican who failed to mention Nickloes’ solidly pro-Trump positions on issues) is illustrated with a photo of a B-1 bomber, which Nickloes has never flown.

Parker reported that Nickloes decided to run last December while accompanying her son on a class trip to Washington, D.C., and being talked down to by a member of Congress who refused to give her an answer when she asked him if he was going to vote to pass a budget before the continuing resolution ended. She said her congressional representative claimed that the Pentagon was exaggerating its needs. She refused to name him.

But since Nickloes’ son’s school is presumably in the Second Congressional District where she is running, those dots aren’t hard to connect.

See the column here.

Nickloes has spent 19 years in the Air National Guard flying a KC-135 refueling plane, sometimes in combat zones. Unlike McGrath and Hegar, she filed her papers to run relatively late in the game (this February) and didn’t start campaigning until April, which means she spotted her opponents a nine-month head start on flesh-pressing and money raising.

And also, unlike McGrath and Hegar, Nickloes didn’t win her primary. Undaunted, the daily newspaper, in its election post-mortem, said her political future’s so bright they have to wear shades (or something like that), which seems excessive for a candidate who got 11 percent of the vote.

And the daily newspaper isn’t alone. Nickloes is the “it” candidate among the local also-rans; the one getting the buzz. If her supporters are correct, Lamar Alexander better watch his back because she’s measuring the drapes in the 78-year-old senator’s office. He comes up for election in 2020.

Meanwhile, Democrats McGrath and Heber won their primaries and are piling up contributions and making Republicans nervous.

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