Former Marine Corps pilot Amy McGrath brought in a whopping $2.5 million in the first day of her campaign to challenge U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to her campaign, a formidable number that could help her clear the field in a potential Democratic primary.
Mark Nickolas, McGrath’s campaign manager, said the $2,501,166 in the 24 hours after the campaign’s launch came from 69,188 donors with the average donation of $36.15.
McGrath had proven herself to be a prolific fundraiser during her 2018 campaign — one reason why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recruited her into the race — but the number indicates she will be able to raise the money necessary to be competitive with McConnell should she make it to the general election.
“It’s an impressive number,” said Matt Erwin, a Democratic strategist in Kentucky. “That said, if someone else has something to offer in a campaign, anyone running and using Mitch McConnell as a foil has the potential to raise money. McConnell will be like an ATM between now and election day.”
McConnell, a prolific fundraiser himself, has already raised $7.9 million for the 2020 campaign, not including donations to his leadership PAC, the Bluegrass Committee, according to the Federal Elections Commission. He pulled in $2.1 million in the first quarter of 2019 alone.
Money does not necessarily mean support. McGrath decision to stiff-arm local media Tuesday and focus on the national cable networks drew criticisms from both Democrats and Republicans who said it indicated she was ignoring Kentucky.
“She’s not talking to them (Kentuckians), she’s talking to the national liberal donor set,” said Billy Piper, a former McConnell chief of staff and founder of Fierce Government Relations. “She’s going to try and raise as much money as possible, but she’s not running a Kentucky race.”
McGrath scoffed at the idea that she was focusing nationally rather than on Kentucky.
“Look at Senator McConnell, he’s somebody who Kentucky has always been second fiddle to him. He cares about his partisan party and his partisan games first,” McGrath said in an interview with the Herald-Leader. “I’ve got to get my message out there. That’s what I’m doing. I’m here in Kentucky, I live in Kentucky, I’m doing this for Kentucky. It’s all about Kentucky for me. I have to be able to compete.”
Erwin, a Democrat, defended McGrath, saying the national focus prevents McGrath from stepping on Attorney General Andy Beshear’s efforts in the 2019 gubernatorial race.
“It’s not a bad idea to try and fill your campaign coffers and try to rein things in until the 2019 governor’s race is over,” Erwin said. “That’s probably the best thing for the party.”
McGrath said she has not talked to the Beshear campaign since announcing, but that she will try to help beat Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin in the fall.
“I’ll be out there running my race, that’s what my focus is on,” McGrath said. “But I’ll tell you I’m going to be out there talking about how bad Governor Bevin is for Kentucky as well. I think a lot of people know he hasn’t done good things for the state and a lot of people are tired of him too.”
Back home, McGrath’s announcement was met with mixed reaction. Progressives took issue with one of the talking points she used on the network shows, when she accused McConnell of blocking some of President Trump’s initiatives that could help Kentuckians. It was an attempt to create space between McConnell and Trump.
Others, citing the national forecasters like Jennifer Duffy of Cook Political Report who say it would be difficult for McGrath to defeat McConnell, were calling for other candidates to enter the race.
Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones said Tuesday he was still considering running despite the splash McGrath’s announcement made nationally. Jones, a lawyer who has been able to launch several successful business ventures with the popularity of his radio show, thinks he appeals to a different type of voter than McGrath and thinks he would be able to win over the Trump voters necessary to defeat McConnell in 2020.
Kentucky House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, also has the ability to appeal to rural Kentucky Democrats and is one of the few remaining anti-abortion Democrats who has run a statewide campaign after he lost in this year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Adkins did not return a request for comment.
McGrath said she didn’t know whether Jones or Adkins would challenge her.
“It’s a democracy,” McGrath said. “If either one of them want to get in the race, they can do that. I don’t expect it or unexpect it. They’re gonna do what they want to do.”
McGrath’s entry into the race drew the attention of several national politicians, including President Trump.
On Tuesday night, the president tweeted his support for McConnell, saying “....Why would Kentucky ever think of giving up the most powerful position in Congress, the Senate Majority Leader, for a freshman Senator with little power in what will hopefully be the minority party. We need Mitch in the Senate to Keep America Great!!”
Earlier in the day Democratic Presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Kamela Harris tweeted their support of McGrath in the race, after she spent the day distancing herself from some of the more progressive stances that have been taken by candidates like Warren in the presidential race.