If the name “Amy McGrath” doesn’t ring a bell it’s because she was one of the few Dems running last fall who *lost* a toss-up House race against her Republican opponent. She fell a few points short against Rep. Andy Barr in KY-6 despite her credentials as the first woman to fly in combat for the Marines and a viral campaign ad that made her a figure of national interest to Democrats. She raised big big big money as a result, making her a serious threat to knock off Barr in a rematch if the political climate is trending blue next fall.
Instead she’s going to challenge the most influential man in the Senate, who has the number of every major Republican donor in the country in his phone’s contacts and has had only one close-ish race in the last 25 years. That came in the Democratic Hopenchange wave of 2008; even with Obama fever at its peak, Dems couldn’t knock off Cocaine Mitch in Kentucky. Now here’s McGrath ready to challenge him in a presidential election year, with Trump at the top of the ballot in a state he won by just a hair under 30 points.
Why would she tackle McConnell instead of Barr, knowing that losing a second closely watched race will brand her as a loser who should step aside and let other ambitious young Dems in Kentucky take a shot? I’m baffled.
I’m running to replace Mitch McConnell in the U.S. Senate. Everything that’s wrong with Washington had to start somewhere—it started with him. With your help, we can defeat Mitch and defend democracy. Join us: https://t.co/c4b0WAp4ji pic.twitter.com/DNLjFkHGua
— Amy McGrath (@AmyMcGrathKY) July 9, 2019
Team Mitch was prepared for her announcement and has already unspooled this lowlight reel for Kentucky’s conservative voters?
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) July 9, 2019
I understand why Dems want McGrath to run. Between her fundraising ability and her credentials as a vet, she stands more of a chance of winning some swing voters than, say, Ashley Judd does. She might be their strongest hand notwithstanding last year’s loss to Barr. And realistically, they have to give ousting McConnell the ol’ college try because the lefty base views him as a villain almost on par with Trump. (McGrath’s ad reflects that too, which helps explain why it’s already piled up a million views today.) Conceding another six-year term to him via a token opponent after the Merrick Garland blockade and the nuking of the filibuster to confirm Gorsuch would be unimaginable to progressives.
Critics are carping this morning that McGrath’s fundraising prowess will actually hurt Dems nationally by vacuuming up dollars that might have gone to more winnable races, but Chuck Schumer might see that differently. How many dollars wouldn’t be donated at all if the party surrendered to McConnell in his race without a shot being fired? McGrath’s campaign is a morale-booster for the left ahead of Armageddon with Trump, even though she’s destined to lose.
What does McGrath out of this, though? I’m open to the argument that she’s following the Beto O’Rourke/Stacey Abrams path of building her national profile by losing a tight race in a red state. Drew McCoy’s right that narrow defeat against a conservative who was heavily favored to win is something that Dems seem eager to reward these days. But (a) the Beto path isn’t looking so hot right now for Beto himself per the recent Democratic primary polling and (b) there’s no reason to believe McGrath’s race against McConnell will be particularly close. O’Rourke and Abrams each had the wind at their back in running during a midterm, in a Democratic wave environment. McGrath is sailing into strong winds with Trump at the top of the ballot, and she’s facing an incumbent with unusual power and long experience. Is the Beto/Abrams path really there for her if she loses by 10 points?
Even if she surprises by losing narrowly, it’s not as if she can quickly parlay the excitement of a near-miss into an instant presidential run a la O’Rourke and (maybe) Abrams. She’ll have to wait four years to capitalize. Four years ago today, Donald Trump had only recently declared his presidential candidacy. Four years is a lifetime politically, never more so than in this era.
Maybe McGrath figures that losing to McConnell is actually less risky than running — and losing — again against Barr. It’s one thing to be a two-time loser when one of those losses was to the Senate majority leader. It’s another to be a two-time loser when both were at the hands of an obscure congressman. McGrath might be able to put a loss to McConnell behind her and try for governor eventually, hoping that the political climate is more hospitable to Democrats when she does. Or she could cross her fingers and hope that Trump and/or the economy somehow implodes between now and November 2020, which would put every Republican incumbent in the country in some jeopardy. If nothing else, taking one for the team by serving as sacrificial lamb to McConnell will earn her some goodwill from her party. If they beat Trump next year, she might end up with a defense appointment as thanks. Secretary of the Navy, maybe?
Here’s McGrath trying to make the case to Kentucky voters that she’s the Trumpier choice in the race since McConnell is, after all, “The Swamp.” It’s amusing that she thinks populism, rather than hyperpartisanship, is the key to Trump’s appeal, but I guess she needs some sort of pitch to swing voters.
McConnell challenger Amy McGrath explains how a Dem can win a red state like Kentucky: Kentuckians "voted for Donald Trump to drain the swamp. The swamp was really built by Mitch McConnell." pic.twitter.com/b06n7x0B6l
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) July 9, 2019