Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is projected to defeat Democratic opponent Amy McGrath in Kentucky, winning a race that ultimately posed little threat to the six-term Republican senator despite all the attention it garnered from those anxious to end McConnell’s career.
The Associated Press projected that McConnell had won the race about an hour after polls closed in Kentucky Tuesday night.
McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot, raised tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions that her team believed would allow her to present an unprecedented and difficult challenge to McConnell. But she still fell far short.
It’s a disappointing result for Democrats in Kentucky and beyond, although not an entirely unexpected one. McConnell has not come within 100,000 votes of defeat since his first senatorial reelection campaign in 1990. Despite facing national disdain for his role as President Donald Trump’s chief enabler over the last four years, he was always considered a heavy favorite to win no matter whom Democrats chose to run against him.
Despite the long odds, the combination of McConnell’s notable unpopularity in the Bluegrass State and a Democratic victory in last year’s gubernatorial race drove hopes that McGrath might be able to pull off the upset. But McGrath, who narrowly lost a 2018 race for a central Kentucky congressional seat, stumbled out of the gate in July 2019, when she flip-flopped on whether she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and fumbled her way through an answer in which she tried to blame McConnell for blocking key aspects of Trump’s agenda that were popular in Kentucky. (Trump himself is relatively popular in the state.)
McGrath survived a competitive primary against progressive state Rep. Charles Booker, but never fully recovered from the early mishaps. McConnell, meanwhile, painted her as a rabid progressive whose support for abortion rights, expanding the Affordable Care Act and other Democratic priorities would make her a rubber stamp for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
McConnell, who spent the final days of the race focused on confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, painted himself as a last line of defense for Kentuckians. He argued in the only televised debate with McGrath that as the sole member of the top four congressional leaders who isn’t from New York or California, he served as an important voice for Kentuckians. On TV, he turned nationwide anti-racism protests into a dog whistle, painting Democrats ― and by extension McGrath ― as supporters of “mobs” carrying out violence in the streets.
McGrath battered McConnell over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that he did too little to help Kentuckians at the outset of the crisis and completely ignored them ahead of the election when he refused to consider passing a new economic relief package. She also asked Kentuckians to consider whether their lives had improved during McConnell’s 36 years in the Senate and accused him of prioritizing wealthy donors in Washington over the needs of everyday Kentuckians.
The national focus on the race, even though it represented a long-shot pickup opportunity in Democratic efforts to retake the Senate majority, helped McGrath haul in another $36 million over the race’s final quarter. But her record-breaking fundraising numbers were for not enough to beat McConnell, whose victory was yet another stinging defeat for a Kentucky Democratic Party that’s all too used to them.
Kentucky hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since the late Wendell Ford’s last race in 1992, and Democrats have now lost nine consecutive Senate contests in the Bluegrass State. They’ll have another chance to break that run in two years, when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is up for reelection.