If there’s anyone that Democrats across this country dislike more than Donald Trump, it might be (and probably should be) Mitch McConnell. The senior senator from Kentucky has become a fixture of our national politics. As Senate majority leader, he relishes his role as the “grim reaper.” This self-proclaimed moniker refers to his track record of killing bills that House Democrats send his way. McConnell has long embodied a combination of dry humor, keen wit, and razor-sharp political instincts. He has stood the test of time. His longevity has put him in the position to remake the judiciary by confirming a record number of federal judges nominated by President Trump. Democrats desperately want him out of Washington.
Kentucky primary voters had a chance to make his upcoming election memorable. As McConnell coasted to another primary win, the Democrats put on a bit of a show. Big money from out of state has been betting on the establishment-backed candidate Amy McGrath. In fact, she’s already well known in the Bluegrass State. In 2018, she lost a tough battle for Kentucky’s Sixth congressional district. This time around, despite her name recognition and despite spending $12 million on TV ads, she barely won her primary. It was supposed to be a slam-dunk win for her. Instead, she garnered a mere 45 percent of the vote.
Charles Booker, her chief primary opponent, is a freshman Democrat in the Kentucky state house. He represents an urban district in Louisville. He’s progressive by any standards, especially those of Kentucky. McConnell would have painted him as a card-carrying modern-day Marxist, likely claiming that a vote for Booker would be a vote for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and liberal Supreme Court justices. He wouldn’t have been wrong.
And while Marxism doesn’t play too well in a Kentucky general election, Booker had one thing going for him that McGrath’s money just can’t buy: palpable support. As protests erupted in Louisville over the controversial death of Breonna Taylor, Booker joined them in the streets. His sincerity and zeal played well in Kentucky and prompted a last-minute surge that almost overcame McGrath’s big-money machine. Almost. He narrowly lost with 43 percent of the vote. If he had been victorious, his base would have brought that same energy and fierceness to the general election. McConnell has likely not faced such a tempest in a while, maybe ever. Booker still would not have been favored to win in the fall, but Kentucky Democrats could have at least made the general election exciting. Instead, they chose to make it Amy McGrath.
McConnell has the luxury of using the same attack lines against McGrath that he would have used against Booker. Truth be told, she’s probably not as crazy left-wing as Booker, but that won’t stop Team Mitch from portraying her that way. They’ve already started by releasing a statement that said, in part, “Extreme Amy McGrath is lucky to have gotten out of the primary with a victory, but her reputation sustained significant damage all across Kentucky.” Republican strategists should be thrilled with this outcome — to hell with what a recent poll supposedly says about her electability against McConnell. If she couldn’t win the seat in KY-6, which includes the state’s second-largest urban center of Lexington, why would she win a statewide senatorial election? It’s true that Booker would have had a hard time in rural Kentucky, but probably not much a harder one than McGrath will have. And he certainly would have driven up the scoreboard in Louisville, his home.
Democrats in Kentucky went with their heads, not their hearts. McGrath seemed like a safer bet, especially with her out-of-state money. From April 1 to June 3, she raised $11.3 million to McConnell’s $7.2 million for the same time period. Both rely heavily on donors from across the country, but as of late, she is winning the fundraising war. I can already imagine the television commercials she will make with that haul … actually, wait. I’ve already seen them, back in 2018. Here’s the gist: she’s an accomplished fighter pilot, a mom, and she doesn’t like Donald Trump. Say that 10,000 times over and over to yourself, and you too can appreciate the dull, numbing pain that Kentuckians are in for this fall.
Amy McGrath has some solid lines, but they just didn’t cut it back in 2018. It’s too early to predict a McConnell victory in November. If 2020 has taught me anything about the world, it’s that anything can happen. Literally anything. McGrath will give it her best, and there’s no doubt that she’s tough, smart, and driven. There’s also no doubt that she’s a known losing quantity in Kentucky. While no one should ever confidently read the tea leaves as they pertain to politics, if I were a gambling man, I’d bet the house on the grim reaper.
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