Opinion

Amy McGrath couldn’t beat Andy Barr. Can she topple Mitch McConnell?

Amy McGrath ran a superlative campaign in the Sixth District race against U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in 2018. She handily defeated Lexington Mayor Jim Gray in the primary, excited the Democratic base in Central Kentucky, and activated a new force of political newbies excited about her politics, which managed to espouse liberal policies, (a public option for healthcare! pro-choice!) within the respectable facade of her military trailblazing and moderate support for gun rights.

But in the end, none of it was enough. All those excited Democrats in Lexington and Frankfort still couldn’t rustle up enough votes to beat a popular Republican incumbent in Trump country.

So, while many McGrath supporters are excited about her early morning announcement Tuesday that she would take on one of the most powerful politicians in the country, it’s hard to imagine that any Democrat can prevail in a statewide election these days, much less defeat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

That’s not to say he shouldn’t go. McConnell has done enough damage to American democracy, from his enabling of an unfit President to a campaign finance system that sells our government to the highest bidder, McConnell has made it abundantly clear that he cares only about power — his own and that of the oligarchs he serves.

Now, as someone reminded me this morning, unlikely things can happen in politics, and one of the most unlikely was way back in 1984 when a young McConnell beat incumbent Democrat Dee Huddlestone in what the New York Times called “a dramatic upset.” There’s plenty of ammunition out there against him, and if every single, solitary Democrat in every corner of Kentucky pulled the lever for McGrath, it’s possible she could win.

That path is extremely tantalizing. There will be a primary in May 2020, but for now, McGrath is the obvious front-runner. So we’ll see plenty of outside money, and ads, and celebrities streaming into Kentucky to support McGrath in what’s sure to turn into a vicious, nasty and expensive race. But those people don’t vote here. And as we’ve seen in the past few years, the staunch Democratic voters in the blue pockets of Lexington and Louisville haven’t been numerous enough to bring the slightest purple tinge to the rest of this Republican state, particularly in a presidential year with Trump on the ballot.

That’s my cynical, pessimistic perspective on Kentucky politics. McGrath would make a fine senator. I hope she proves me wrong.

Linda Blackford writes columns and commentary for the Herald-Leader.

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