Amy McGrath is a top recruit to take on Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2020. She’s a veteran. She came close in a congressional race in ’18, where Trump won the district in 2016. She’s raised $2.5 million since she announced her Senate candidacy. And in less than a day, she might have burned it all to ash. Folks, we’ve seen this movie before. Remember when Alison Lundergan Grimes as supposed to give Mitch a run for his money; he trounced her. It was a slaughter. This is Mitch McConnell, who is an excellent campaigner and strategist. He knows how to win. And the McGrath bubble burst violently over Brett Kavanaugh. She said she would’ve voted to confirm him, only to flip-flop in less than a day. CNN’s Inside Politics panel called this screw up unrecoverable (via Washington Free Beacon):
McGrath's initial comments brought animus from Democrats outside Kentucky, for whom she relies on for much of her financial support, and her subsequent flip-flop reflected poorly on her preparedness for a high-profile race against the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate.
Members of the CNN panel showed little sympathy for McGrath's backtrack on Kavanaugh.
"What a disaster!" said Carl Hulse, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times. "This is just a disaster. I’m not sure what was worse, being for Kavanaugh or then having to flip so quickly and say you weren't."
Bloomberg reporter Sahil Kapur argued that McGrath was forcing herself into awkward ideological positions by trying to appeal to conservative voters in Kentucky. "Part of Amy McGrath's message is that President Trump won Kentucky by a big margin and she wants to work with him on things like infrastructure and draining the swamp," Kapur said. "And she's painting McConnell as a threat to getting Trump's agenda passed, and saying she would better work with President Trump. None of it really computes here."
Washington Post reporter and CNN political analyst Rachael Bade reflected on the national Democratic interest McGrath had gained since her close loss in the race for Kentucky's 6th Congressional District in 2018, but concluded that "really, after this, she probably can't recover from this."
I was asked earlier today about Judge Brett Kavanaugh and I answered based upon his qualifications to be on the Supreme Court. But upon further reflection and further understanding of his record, I would have voted no.— Amy McGrath (@AmyMcGrathKY) July 10, 2019
There won’t be a boost in voter enthusiasm for Democrats in 2020. Whatever advantage they enjoyed will e canceled out by the turnout for Trump, something that Democratic strategists admit. So, once again, Democrats are dealing with a situation where they’re trying to win in a deep red state—and one where the favored candidate has already received a blast full of buckshot to the face. FiveThirtyEight all but wrote her political epitaph, noting that everything needs to break in the Democrats’ favor in order for McGrath to win—no mistakes. Well, we have a whopper in less than a day:
In 2018, she ran unsuccessfully for Kentucky’s 6th District where she lost to incumbent GOP Rep. Andy Barr by 3 points. But she did manage to raise an eye-popping $8.5 million in the process, making it the 10th-most expensive House election in the country. Her performance also led to speculation that she might run for governor in 2019 or the Senate in 2020. But after heavy recruitment from Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, she opted for the latter.
And while McGrath might be one of the best candidates Democrats can put up against McConnell, it will still be mighty difficult for her to actually win in ruby red Kentucky. As of 2018, Kentucky was about 23 points more Republican than the country as a whole1 — so to put that into perspective, the entire state is more than twice as Republican-leaning as the House district (R+11) she ran in last November.
Moreover, states tend to back the same party for the presidency and Senate, especially when they’re on the ballot together. In 2016, for instance, every single state voted the same way for both offices, the first time that had ever happened.2 This is particularly troubling for McGrath, as President Trump won Kentucky by 30 points in 2016, and his net approval rating there is still +15, according to recent data on Trump’s job approval from Morning Consult.
So even if McGrath outperformed whomever the Democrats nominate for president, she would have to do so by a large margin to stand a chance of defeating McConnell. Take Kentucky’s 2016 Senate race: Democrat Jim Gray outperformed Hillary Clinton 43 percent to 33 percent, but still lost by about 15 points to Republican Sen. Rand Paul. In other words, if Trump is winning by double-digits at the top of the ballot, it’s going to be hard for a Democrat to win enough split-ticket votes to carry the day.
Is it possible? Sure. It would take nearly everything to break McGrath’s way, though.
Mitch has to be feeling even better right now.