The 6th District congressional race has always been about more than Amy McGrath and Andy Barr – the “outsider” fighter pilot vs. the “insider” champion of big business — but this week will make that even clearer.
The race is now a full-fledged referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency, and whether Congress should continue enabling him or provide some checks and balances.
Trump plans to campaign for Barr at a rally in Richmond on Saturday. The day before, former Vice President Joe Biden, a possible presidential contender in 2020, is to campaign for McGrath at a rally in Owingsville.
Polls show 52 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s leadership, while only 43 percent approve. That’s why pundits give Democrats a good chance of gaining control of the House of Representatives in the Nov. 6 elections, and even a slight chance of taking the Senate.
Trump is a political Rorschach test like no other: You either think he is “making America great again” or you think he is an amoral liar whose policies are doing long-term damage to the nation and world. (Anyone who reads this column regularly knows on which side of that divide I stand.)
Trump won Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District by more than 15 percentage points, but a lot has happened in the two years since. Do most Central Kentuckians support Trump’s agenda? Barr has voted for it 97 percent of the time. Do they approve of Trump’s childish tweets, his bully behavior, his authoritarian impulses?
The economy is growing, but the growth is very uneven. Barr likes to tout the Republicans’ “middle-class tax cut” even though most benefits went to wealthy people and corporations. Rather than raise workers’ wages, most companies used their windfall to buy back stock, reward investors and juice the stock market. The tax cut also is expected to add $2.3 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade.
Trump’s protectionist trade policies — the opposite of decades of “conservative” Republican emphasis on open markets and free trade— have resulted in foreign tariffs that will hurt Kentucky farmers and bourbon distilleries.
Remember Trump’s promise to put thousands of coal miners back to work? They’re still waiting. Kentucky’s coal industry has continued its decline under Trump, despite pro-coal policies that are making the dangers of climate change worse.
This week, a landmark scientific report from the United Nations predicted the effects of climate change will be worse and quicker than previously thought. Yet Trump, virtually alone among world leaders, calls climate change a “hoax.” Republicans won the “war on coal” but it is looking more and more like a hollow victory.
McGrath has shown herself to be an articulate and savvy candidate. She has created excitement throughout the district, especially among women. And many of those women are more fired up than ever after Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rammed through Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
Trump’s anti-immigrant policies haven’t found much favor in Central Kentucky. The region has a large Latino population, and most people here understand what an important economic role those immigrants play, especially as workers in agriculture, construction and the horse industry.
With independent polls showing the race a toss-up, Barr has campaigned like an underdog. He has put out one attack ad after another, distorting McGrath’s positions and calling her “too liberal for Kentucky.”
Her response: “Is that all you got?”
McGrath’s campaign has focused on her military background, family and willingness to work across party lines. That approach is likely to resonate with many Kentucky voters who have grown weary of Trump’s carnival of nastiness — and Republican lawmakers willing to swim in the gutter with him to get re-elected.