Democrat Amy McGrath takes on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will face Democrat Amy McGrath in Kentucky's 2020 US Senate election. 
  • McConnell is one of the most high-profile politicians in the country and one of the most reviled among Democrats, helping McGrath raise an eye-popping $46 million for her campaign so far.
  • Despite McConnell's unpopularity among Democrats and her own strong fundraising, McGrath is still unlikely to defeat the majority leader, who has held his US Senate seat since 1986. 
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Former fighter pilot and 2018 House candidate Amy McGrath is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky's US Senate race.

The candidates

McConnell, one of the most high-profile and influential Republicans of the past half-century, is seeking a sixth term to the US Senate. He's also one of the most reviled and despised Republican figures among Democrats, making Kentucky's Senate election one of the most highly-watched races of the year. 

Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Senate Democrats' campaign arm recruited McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who ran for US House in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District in 2018, to run for US Senate against McConnell last summer. 

McGrath faced a few stumbles in launching her campaign, including flip-flopping on whether she would have voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and arguing that McConnell's tactics as Senate Majority Leader were undermining Trump's agenda, leading some to wonder if she was trying to position herself as a pro-Trump Democrat. Overall, however, McGrath has been extremely clear in her anti-Trump messaging, including calling for the president's impeachment and backing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden early on in the Democratic primary cycle. 

But her eye-catching ads and national Democrats' extreme dislike of McConnell have helped make her one of the top Senate Democratic fundraisers of the cycle, bringing in a stunning $46 million so far with $16 million in cash-on-hand, according to the most recent campaign finance filings. 

The stakes

In addition to winning back the White House, regaining control of the US Senate for the first time since 2015 is a top priority for Democrats and would be a major accomplishment towards either delivering on a future president Joe Biden's policy goals or thwarting President Donald Trump's second-term agenda.

Currently, the US Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents that caucus with Democrats, winning that Democrats need to win back a net total of four seats to have a 51-seat majority (if Biden wins, his vice president would also serve as president of the Senate and would be a tie-breaker vote). 

And now, the US Senate is in a high-stakes confirmation battle to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died at age 87 from pancreatic cancer on September 18. Within hours of her death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pledged that Trump's nominee for the high court would receive a vote on the floor of the Senate, and Trump said the day after that he would name a replacement "without delay." 

Ginsburg's death threw a stick of dynamite into an already supercharged election shaped by a deadly pandemic that has so far claimed over 200,000 American lives. 

Trump and McConnell's posturing on the issue has excited conservatives enthusiastic about the possibility of Trump getting to appoint a third justice in his first term, but infuriated liberals who accused McConnell of blatant hypocrisy after he refused to hold confirmation proceedings for Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016.

As the Senate moves to confirm Trump's nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, McGrath is hammering McConnell over his actions now compared to in 2016.

 

Despite McConnell's unpopularity among Democrats and her own impressive fundraising, McGrath is still considered unlikely to defeat the majority leader, who has held his US Senate seat since 1986. 

Not only does not McConnell have a formidable track record and unparalleled stature in the state, but on a demographic level, Kentucky isn't trending Democratic at a rate that could put McConnell in serious danger this year.

The state largely doesn't fit the demographic profile of many of the other formerly deep-red states like Arizona, Georgia, and Texas that are now trending purple thanks to sizeable blocs of college-educated voters swinging to the Democrats. 

McConnell defeated Alison Lundergan Grimes, the 2014 Democratic nominee, by 16 percentage points six years ago, and Trump carried the state by a nearly 30-point margin in the 2016 election. 

The money race:

McGrath has both outraised and outspent McConnell this cycle, making Kentucky an incredibly expensive Senate contest, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

McGrath has raised $82.3 million, spent $62.4 million, and reported $19.9 million in cash on hand as of September 30, while McConnell has raised $51.9 million, spent $38.2 million, and reported $13.9 million in cash on hand. 

In 2020's third fundraising quarter from July 1 to September 30, McGrath brought in a $36 million haul compared to  about $15.6 million for McConnell, Axios reported.

What the polling says: 

All the recent polls of the race have all shown McConnell leading McGrath by varying margins.

The most recent poll of the race conducted by Mason Dixon Strategies from October 12-15 found McConnell leading McGrath by nine points, 51% to 42%, among likely voters, and a Data for Progress poll conducted September 14-19 found McConnell ahead of McGrath by seven points, 48% to 41%. 

Another survey of the race conducted by Quinnipiac University from September 10 to 14 found McConnell leading McGrath by 12 percentage points, 53% to 41%, among likely voters.

Quinnipiac's previous survey of the race, conducted July 30 to August 3, found McConnell ahead by a smaller margin of five points, 49% to 4%, among registered voters. 

What the experts say:

The Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics rate the race as "likely Republican" while Inside Elections rates it "safe Republican."

According to FiveThirtyEight's US Senate forecasting model, McConnell has a 96% chance at winning another term in office and is expected to win the popular vote with 56% of the vote compared to 42% for McGrath. 

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