Kentuckians woke up this morning to the news that Amy
McGrath has declared her candidacy for US Senate. McGrath, a former Marine
combat pilot, aims to replace long-time Senator Mitch McConnell. She obviously has guts, but this isn’t a
fight that can be won with fighter pilot skills and raw courage.
McGrath lost to Rep Andy Barr (R, KY-6) by three percentage points last Fall. That race garnered national attention and was considered an early indicator of how large the “Blue Wave” would be. Despite raking in millions of outside-the-Commonwealth donation dollars and plenty of media headlines, McGrath could not overcome the label of “too liberal for Kentucky” stuck on her by Barr—using her own words. While she did win Fayette and Franklin counties, home to the cities of Lexington and Frankfort respectively, she did not win by large enough margins to overcome the out-right trouncing she took in suburban and rural counties. Donald Trump will be at the top of the ticket in 2020. While his presence in the race will certainly motivate Democrat voters—as well as dis-enchanted independents—there aren’t enough of those voters in Kentucky to produce the groundswell that McGrath will need to defeat McConnell. She will carry Louisville, Lexington, and Frankfort but, as previous McConnell opponents have learned, carrying Kentucky’s cities will only earn you second place in a state-wide election.
Kentucky voted twice for Bill Clinton. When my parents lived there it was just understood that you registered and voted as a Democrat. In fact, when I started working for Jim Bunning—may he rest in peace—in 2001, my paternal grandparents all but disowned me. They were shocked that a granddaughter of theirs could work for a Republican. But the Democrats of my grandparents’ and parents’ days, both nationally and in the counties and towns of the Bluegrass, are long gone. Donald Trump won Kentucky by nearly 30 percentage points.
McConnell won his last race, defeating Alison Lundergan Grimes, by 15.5% in 2014. In 2008, with McCain vs Obama at the top of the ticket, McConnell had his closest race in decades, winning by just 6%. 2008 was a very hard year for Republicans, but McCain actually had a larger winning percentage in Kentucky than McConnell did, winning by 16%. The 2020 climate promises to be more like 2008 than 2014, but Kentucky’s senior Senator has survived tougher environments. McConnell has built the modern Republican party in Kentucky, and in D.C. His campaign staff are superb and they know how to win statewide elections in Kentucky—they’ve been doing it for over thirty years.
McGrath has a great origin story, deep Kentucky roots, and none of the negative baggage that McConnell carries from being associated with DC political warfare. It won’t matter. All Kentucky voters will hear from now until November 3, 2020 is how she is a self-described liberal progressive. She’s pro-abortion, mocks the coal industry, and despises Donald Trump. In deep-red Kentucky, during the hyper-partisan climate of a presidential election cycle, Lt. Colonel McGrath is tilting at windmills.