The campaign manager for Sixth District Democratic primary winner Amy McGrath says her decisive showing at the ballot box Tuesday shows there's a continuing hunger for non-traditional candidates who sidestep the standard political channels.
The key strategist behind the McGrath campaign, onetime Kentucky blogger Mark Nickolas, says there was nothing magical about his game plan, which relied on six rural field offices and an aggressive grassroots operation. But he says the goal was different. He wants contests, not coronations.
"One of the things about politics that I dislike is the sense that the political parties dictate who can run," he tells WUKY. "We need more people who are not a product of this politic world to step up and say enough is enough and run."
Internal polling in December showed McGrath down 45 points to Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who enjoyed high name I.D. and favorability ratings, but Nikolas says a compelling candidate with a positive, issue-driven message defied the odds and showed the way for future political newcomers.
"I hope that this is the beginning of a renaissance for Democrats in Kentucky," he said Tuesday night.
Yet even with the surge of momentum coming out of the primaries, the former Ben Chandler campaign manager acknowledges McGrath is in for another tough battle against a practiced opponent, three-term Republican incumbent Andy Barr. But he notes McGrath has already built the infrastructure to compete district-wide.
"I suspect it's going to get a little more aggressive and nasty," he predicts. "But what got us here is that we looked at all 19 counties as our battlefield, not just the big ones."
A McGrath triumph in November could focus attention on candidate scouts with political impulses similar to those held by Nickolas, who once ran a hard-hitting Kentucky politics blog dubbed BluegrassReport.org. The Lexington Herald-Leader describes the blog as a controversial "must-read" that ruffled feathers in both parties, leaving some state Democrats disenchanted with California native's approach.
Nickolas ran two unsuccessul gubernatorial campaigns for state Rep. Jody Richards and Ben Chandler, but succeeded in the latter's 6th District congressional run.