Amy McGrath was sitting in the parking lot of a Lexington Wendy's when the phone rang. Two days after winning a come-from behind bid to become the Democratic challenger to take on Rep. Andy Barr, she was deluged with congratulatory calls and texts.
This one was different: on the line, former Vice President Joe Biden, offering congratulations and telling McGrath she offered a path that other Democrats should take notice of, said McGrath's campaign manager Mark Nickolas.
Biden said he was impressed with how the retired fighter pilot performed in the rural counties outside Lexington and said that other Democrats should be working to connect with rural voters, Nickolas said. Biden was especially pleased that McGrath was successful in doing so and offered to help in any way, Nickolas said.
The call left McGrath juggling her Wendy's burger and fries, and she joked on Twitter that she'd put aside the primary race-induced fast food diet for healthier eating habits "tomorrow."
Democrats have grappled with strategies to reach rural voters since Donald Trump in 2016 used his appeal to rural areas in a number of swing states to edge out Hillary Clinton for the presidency. McGrath, who was not the choice of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, kept a distance from the national Democratic party in the race, pitching herself as an outsider who would represent all 19 counties in the district, not just Lexington.
It paid off and her campaign resonated with rural voters. While primary rival Lexington Mayor Jim Gray won Fayette County, the largest in the district, McGrath won the remaining 18 counties.
The Democratic Congressional Committee, which considers Barr's district one of the places that can help it regain control of the House, on Thursday named McGrath to its "Red to Blue" program which brings with it organizational fundraising support.
"Her grassroots campaign is mobilizing voters and bringing new supporters into the fold every day, and is primed to compete for every vote in this district.," said DCCC chairman Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico.
Biden, who created a political action committee last year to help Democrats running for office, has endorsed candidates in several competitive House races, including Nevada, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New Jersey. The Scranton, Pa-born Biden's ability to connect with working class voters could be valuable for Democrats competing in red states like Kentucky, where Trump easily won the state with nearly twice as many votes as Clinton.
Biden has already headlined fundraisers and campaign rallies for Democrats elected in red or red-tinged states: Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa. Biden on Thursday endorsed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who faces a challenge from actor Cynthia Nixon, who is backing by progressive activists.
His activity has also prompted speculation that he's looking at a 2020 presidential challnge to Trump.