(Reuters) – Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath, an establishment-backed Kentucky Democrat, on Tuesday won the nomination to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November, NBC News and Politico projected on Tuesday, citing preliminary results.
McGrath, 45, looked to have held off a late surge from fellow Democrat Charles Booker, an African-American state legislator, who won backing from progressive leaders and gained on McGrath late in the campaign as protests spread across the United States over police violence against Black people.
According to Kentucky state officials, McGrath was leading Booker with 44% to 43.5% of the vote with 107 of 120 counties reporting results.
Kentucky was expected to update vote results later on Tuesday in the closely watched race, in which McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Congress, is seeking a seventh six-year term.
McGrath won the backing of the Democratic Party’s establishment early in her campaign, including an endorsement from Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and raised a massive $41 million in campaign funds.
Emphasizing her military experience, McGrath stressed in campaign ads that she was the “only candidate who can win” against McConnell, who has represented Kentucky in the Senate for over three decades.
McGrath follows in the mold of a handful of freshmen Democratic women with experience in national security fields who helped flip Republican House of Representatives seats in 2018, from former military pilots to CIA and Pentagon analysts.
She spent 20 years in the Marines, flying 89 combat missions. Two years ago, she narrowly lost a congressional race in Kentucky to Republican U.S. Representative Andy Barr. She is married to another former fighter pilot and has three children.
Assuming her lead over Booker holds, McGrath will run in November against McConnell, 78, who has marshaled $32 million in campaign funds so far. Kentucky is a conservative state that voted for Republican President Donald Trump by 30 percentage points in 2016.
Republicans’ 53-47 majority in the U.S. Senate is looking increasingly vulnerable in the Nov. 3 election, according to political analysts, with party leadership, including McConnell, scrambling to defend seats previously regarded as safe.
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