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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

KY’s McGrath-McConnell Battle As the Marquee Senate Race

As Trump’s chief enabler, Mitch McConnell, will have a lot to answer for when historians look back on the Trump era as the most polarizing and destructive presidency in American history. Not that Senate Majority Leader McConnell cares, for his overarching concern seems to be acquisition and deployment of political power, without regard to moral considerations, including the well-being of his constituents or the nation as a whole.

And if the G.O.P. suffers an historic rout on November 3rd, McConnell will have earned a large share of the blame as the one Republican who could have kept Trump on a leash, simply by insisting on more of a spirit of bipartisanship and a just a little moderation for the sake of legislative success. Even if McConnell wins re-election, but his party loses their senate majority, his fellow Republicans may call for new party leadership as an essential requirement for rebuilding.

Thus Amy McGrath’s campaign to defeat McConnell is now drawing more media coverage than any of the other competitive Senate races. But there are some other, less obvious reasons for the growing attention being focused on McGrath’s campaign, some of which are outlined by Chris Cillizza at CNN Politics, including:

…McGrath doesn’t need to beat McConnell to reshape the Senate map. All she has to do is be competitive enough that she a) keeps McConnell focused on his own race and b) forces him (and, potentially, the national Republican Party) to spend time and money ensuring that the Republican leader wins.

While Booker, the youngest black Kentucky lawmaker at 35 years old, got the lion’s share of positive press attention in the final weeks of the primary race, there was a reason that Senate Democrats’ campaign arm had endorsed McGrath’s candidacy in February: Because she is a remarkably strong fundraiser…And, as of June 3, McGrath had raised $41 million for her Senate campaign — and had more than $19 million left in her bank account as of that date. That’s $4 million more than McConnell had on hand at the same time. (McConnell has raised more than $32 million for the race so far.)
Cillizza concedes that “McGrath is a less able campaigner than she is a fundraiser…she didn’t beat [Rep. Andy] Barr in 2018 — despite that being a very good year to be a Democratic challenger…Yet, “if she can raise, let’s say, $80 million total, then McConnell and the national Republican Party apparatus are also going to have to spend heavily to ensure he wins again — despite the clear Republican lean of the state at the federal level. (The last Democrat to win a Senate race in Kentucky was Sen. Wendell Ford back in 1992.)” Further,
So, let’s say that $20 million gets spent on the Kentucky race to make sure that McConnell is insulated from the TV ad onslaught that McGrath’s fundraising can buy…Well, that’s $20 million that can’t be spent on trying to reelect Arizona Sen. Martha McSally. Or Maine Sen. Susan Collins. Or North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis. Or Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler. You get the idea.

And then there’s this to consider: If McConnell, the best fundraiser among Senate Republicans, is focused on raising money for his own reelection race, he can’t raise as much money for all of those senators I just named above. Ditto for if he is pinned down in Kentucky rather than traveling across the country for events to collect cash for the most vulnerable GOP incumbents.
Winning, when it comes to McConnell, isn’t necessarily the goal for Senate Democrats as they try to net the three seats (if Joe Biden wins the White House) or four (if he doesn’t) they need for the majority. Senate Democrats don’t need Kentucky to get to the majority. In fact, there are roughly a dozen GOP seats that would likely fall before McConnell loses.
Instead, keeping McConnell occupied on his own race has to be Democrats’ goal. And McGrath makes that much more likely.

McGrath’s weaknesses as a candidate as a “less able campaigner than she is a fund-raiser” cited by Cillizza may matter less in the pandemic environment, since traveling around giving speeches and participating in debates is not a campaign priority in 2020. Democrats should nonetheless make sure their best debate coaches and media advisors are available to McGrath’s campaign.

But McGrath’s campaign should leverage her impressive success as a fund-raiser by producing the most effective ads, social media strategy and ground game. In so doing, she will maximize her chances to win. But even if she loses, she will have served the causes of strengthening Democratic prospects and hastening the end of McConnell’s reckless reign of the Senate. Those who want to contribute to these goals can do so right here.

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