McGrath Stumbles

Jul 17, 2019 at 11:34 am
John Yarmuth

In just 24 hours, Amy McGrath spoiled the Democratic race against Mitch McConnell for any other Democrats who might join the fight.

Here’s why her campaign is already over.

The path to defeating McConnell is microscopically narrow. It has to run by the perfect Democratic candidate to win on the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) in November. It would take the perfect coalition of motivated Democrats and anti-swamp Republicans to beat him. Because McConnell is unpopular enough — the most unpopular U.S. senator — that is possible.

Unfortunately, McGrath already strayed from that path by alienating what should be her foundational support — the Democratic Party. She may never be able to apologize enough for her comments to convince Democrats that they should be excited to vote for a  pro-Trump Democrat. Same goes for her flip-flop (and then flip again) on whether she would have voted for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What’s worse, perhaps, is that beyond the two most publicly discussed, self-inflicted fatal missteps, McGrath doesn’t seem to understand the race that she’s gotten herself into: When you’re running against the most unpopular politician in the country, the campaign must be about him. It’s not about Trump, it’s not about issues, and it’s certainly not about you, the challenger.

It has to be about Mitch — the most deplorable swamp-monster in all of Washington D.C.

When asked about why you’re running,  you do not say that you want to enable the Trump agenda. She should have said something like, “I’m running because everything that is wrong in the U.S. Congress, all of the dysfunction and nastiness, is all because of Mitch McConnell.”

When asked whether you would have voted for Kavanaugh, she should have said: “No, but more importantly, I’m running because that disgusting circus was all thanks to Mitch McConnell. I’m tired of it, and Kentuckians are, too.”

As Kentucky Sports Radio founder Matt Jones (who is a Democrat considering a run against McConnell) said, “There’s Kentucky fans, there’s Louisville fans, we don’t agree on a lot, but we all hate Duke. And Mitch McConnell is Duke.”

So, why did McGrath spoil it for any Democrat who enters the race?

She misspent the royal welcome to the race that would be due to the first Democratic candidate: a welcome that is rich with national media attention and money… lots of money.

If you paid attention to the national, local and social media coverage about McGrath, you would have thought she had already won the Democratic nomination. This is why this unearned media is invaluable: It brings the amount of name-ID that money can’t buy. And here is where she spoiled it... the attention and presumption of front runner status that comes from being the first to announce also can scare other candidates out of the race.

The $2.5 million she raised isn’t coming back or going to the better, next candidate. The national media spotlight isn’t coming back and won’t be as large to welcome a better, next candidate.

In fairness to McGrath, any Democratic challenge to McConnell is a long shot. Depending on who the Democratic nominee for president ultimately is, it may be a kamikaze campaign so imbued with Trump that the issues no longer are under the challenger’s control.

But you still have to make the race against McConnell count for something.

Some political pundits and McGrath supporters like to point to her 24-hour, $2.5-million fundraising haul as a sign that her fundraising alone poses a threat to McConnell. They say that forces him to spend time and money on his race in Kentucky, as opposed to helping other Republican Senate candidates around the country. This can be true, but only if Mitch sees vulnerability in polls, which he never will if his opponent is a mistake-prone, pro-Trump Democrat.

More important than draining his resources and distracting him, the Democrat nominee has to be someone who will give Kentucky Democrats a reason to vote — particularly Democrats in the 6th Congressional district, Lexington, a crucial trove of voters needed to win.

Despite all of that, a better Democratic candidate could join the race, win the nomination and make a real, tangible difference in the balance of power in the state. McGrath is not that Democrat.

And who knows? A failed bid for the U.S. Senate could lead to a successful future… it got Lil’ B… I mean, Gov. Matt Bevin... into office after losing to McConnell. •