Amy McGrath made her U.S. Senate bid official last week, and the retired marine lieutenant colonel believes she can dethrone Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McGrath, along with some national political observers, point toward Andy Beshear’s victory over Matt Bevin in the governor’s race as momentum for Democrats in Kentucky.
“A Democrat defeated one of the most unpopular Republicans in the country in a statewide election in Kentucky. This year, it was Matt Bevin. Next year, it'll be Mitch McConnell,” McGrath tweeted in November.
McConnell’s Senate seat is up for re-election, and the six-term senator is considered the most unpopular senator in the U.S., according to Morning Consult.
However, most political prediction sites — such as the Cook Report and Crystal Ball — have the race as likely Republican.
And most Kentucky political analysts agree.
“Democrats haven’t had a majority of the vote for a statewide elected federal official since Wendell Ford,” said Les Fugate, a Republican analyst and former deputy Secretary of State under Trey Grayson. “The state is more conservative now that it has probably ever been. There just isn’t a single data point that suggests a positive outcome for democrats in Kentucky in 2020.”
Beshear defeated Bevin by about 5,000 votes, but the rest of the state constitutional offices went Republican with the closest race decided by 64,500 votes — Michael Adams victory over Heather French Henry.
However, for Attorney General, State Auditor, Agriculture Commissioner and State Treasurer, the margin was more than 200,000 votes in each race.
Al Cross, a University of Kentucky professor and political commentator, said those results confirmed that most Kentucky voters prefer the Republican Party.
Fugate added Kentucky is now a red state.
“They even beat a former Miss America," he said. “Combine that built-in advantage with McConnell’s campaign prowess, and this race looks incredibly challenging for Democrats.”
Cross and Fugate both said there’s always a chance something might happen to shift the race. However, it would have to be dramatic.
McGrath’s campaign says McConnell has never faced an opponent like McGrath.
“An independent poll shows the race tied, and more than a quarter-million grassroots donors, including donors from all 120 Kentucky counties, recently gave us a record-breaking $11 million to defeat Sen. McConnell,” Jackie Thompson, deputy communications director for McGrath’s campaign, said. “We recently saw in the race for governor that several key counties, including Madison County, chose a new generation of leaders whose focus was on our hard-working Kentuckians, which is Amy’s focus, too.”
Fugate said McGrath has done an excellent job raising money, and that might give Democrats hope in the race.
Cross, however, doesn’t believe that will change much.
“It does put McConnell on the defensive in a way he has never faced before,” Cross noted.
McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden said there are many positives to take away from the election results in November and it’ll only get better.
“The environment is only going to improve in 2020 with President Trump on the ticket,” he said.
Fugate agreed, adding Republicans do best when the presidential race is on the ballot. He noted Kentucky is growing more conservative by the day which makes a challenge from someone on the left much more difficult.
“Add in the possibility that you might have Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as the nominee, … it is hard to imagine a scenario where Kentucky voters vote against (Republicans) and then turn around and vote for a liberal candidate for Senate,” he said.
For McGrath, her campaign says Kentucky needs a new generation of leaders who have worked in the 21st century globalized world not in the Washington swamp that McConnell created.
“Amy is that leader,” Thompson said. “Sen. McConnell’s failed leadership is why Amy is stepping up to serve her country once again to help Kentucky bring back jobs, increase access to affordable health care and lower prescription drug prices, and build a modern-day infrastructure.”
McGrath is one of six Democrats to file so far. Mike Broihier also filed last week as a U.S. Senate candidate. Broihier is a political newcomer with a broad resume as a Marine officer, farmer and small-town newspaperman. Also running are Andrew J. Maynard, Eric Rothmuller, John Sharpensteen and Jimmy C. Ausbrooks. State Rep. Charles Booker also is exploring a potential run.
McConnell currently faces five Republican challengers — former State Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, Louis Grider, Paul John Frangedakis, Wendell Crow and Nicholas Alsager.
“You always see a couple names in primaries for races as important as U.S. Senator,” Fugate said. “Last time around, he vanquished a formidable opponent fairly easily, and this time his opponent is much less imposing. Most political observers do not realize he has an opponent, which tells you all you need to know.”
Jonathan Greene is the editor of The Register; follow him on Twitter @jgreeneRR.