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With Primary Win, McGrath Has Chance to Dethrone McConnell

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“What our numbers show is that voters are fed up with Mitch McConnell continually putting corporate handouts ahead of working people.”

In a tight Democratic primary, Amy McGrath defeated Kentucky state Rep. Charlies Booker, The New York Times reported. Although the election took place a week ago, an increased number of mail-in ballots prompted a delay in the final results, which were finalized Tuesday and gave the former Marine pilot a narrow victory—45.4% to 42.7%—over Booker.

Surviving a Surprise Primary Challenge

McGrath’s campaign made headlines with the size of her war chest in a historically conservative state. At the beginning of June, her campaign had raised $40 million. In April, ABC News reported she had more cash on-hand than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the incumbent senator she is challenging.

Even while facing a challenger in the primary contest, McGrath had eyes on McConnell, running ads against the six-term career politician.

“What our numbers show is that voters are fed up with Mitch McConnell continually putting corporate handouts ahead of working people,” said McGrath campaign spokesman Terry Sebastian.

In one ad, she accused McConnell of enjoying political kickbacks from coronavirus relief legislation as Kentucky continued to suffer. 

“After 35 years of Mitch McConnell putting partisan politics and special interests ahead of doing what’s right for the country, working Americans don’t trust his leadership and are demanding new leaders like Amy McGrath who they know will have their back,” Sebastian said.

Compared to Booker, McGrath contrasted herself as a more middle-of-the-road Democrat against her progressive-oriented opponent. Democrats who chose McGrath over Booker dealt a blow to the progressive wing of the party. Booker rose to prominence in the campaign with an ad depicting himself at a demonstration following the alleged murder of Breonna Taylor while McGrath said she had not joined protests. 

He also pushed for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, which earned him endorsements from establishment figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I–Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D–N.Y., CBS News reported.

Keeping a Focus on McConnell

Following news of her victory, McGrath called on Democrats to unite in the coming election against McConnell.

“The differences that separate Democrats are nothing compared to the chasm that exists between us and the politics and actions of Mitch McConnell,” McGrath said. The Kentucky primary proved voters are “fed up with the status quo,” she added.

Although Booker boasted political experience in the Kentucky legislature, McGrath has military experience that could make her an enticing choice to swing voters. She served for 20 years in the Marines and was the first woman to pilot an F-18 jet in combat while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For McGrath, the election is personal—before she joined the military, a 13-year-old McGrath wrote to McConnell asking him to change a law that prohibited women from serving as pilots, CNN reported.

“He never wrote back,” McGrath recalled. “I’ve often wondered, how many other people did Mitch McConnell never take the time to write back, or even think about?”

It’s a story she repeats as ammunition against McConnell, who she seeks to portray as out-of-touch with constituents and more focused on his own special interests.

Tough Road Ahead

Unseating the incumbent senator will be a daunting task in a state that bleeds red. During the 2014 midterms, McConnell effortlessly defended his seat by a 16-point margin. This year’s race could be determined in part by whether McConnell can continue to ride President Donald Trump’s coattails, Jonathan Martin wrote for The New York Times.

The president won the state in 2016 by over 30 points and recent polling continues to cast Trump as the heavy favorite. Polling compiled by FiveThirtyEight has Trump leading Democratic candidate Joe Biden by nearly 20%.

Polls of McGrath versus McConnell, however, vary. The most recent, a June 17 Civiqs survey, shows the same disparity in the senate race as the presidential election. Another, taken by RMG Research in May, gives McGrath a one-point lead.

McGrath has demonstrated she has no trouble raising donations and may be Democrats’ best hope at stopping McConnell from returning for a seventh term. 

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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