Kentucky's primary elections are coming up on June 23, but if you’ve seen television ads from Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell or his potential Democratic opponent Amy McGrath, you may not know it. Both candidates have spent almost all of their time — and almost all of their money — attacking each other instead of their primary opponents.
The senate race has garnered a national spotlight as McGrath is viewed as one of McConnell’s strongest challengers ever for the seat he has held since 1985. Nearly half of Americans view the Senate Majority Leader unfavorably, and McGrath is building off of momentum from her slim loss to Lexington Congressman Andy Barr in 2018.
"This is about Kentucky. I don't care that there's a national spotlight because we need new leaders," McGrath said. "We need a senator who will finally put the people of Kentucky first and I believe that Mitch McConnell has failed for 35 years to represent Kentucky. Right now he is a creature of Washington (D.C.). He represents special interests way more than the everyday person in Kentucky."
Both McGrath and McConnell so far have run extensive negative ad campaigns against each other, even though they aren't even directly running against each other. However, their Nov. 3 general election matchup seems inevitable. McConnell has no substantial opposition in his primary, despite facing seven other candidates, and McGrath has similarly dominated the Democratic primary, raising nearly $30 million according to FEC filings, over 50 times more than all eight of her primary opponents combined, and even more than McConnell's $25 million. She also won the backing of her party.
McGrath is facing notable opponents Charles Booker and Mike Broihier, both of whom she debated on June 1, as well as seven other candidates. Booker and Broihier have raised just over $300,000 and $200,000 respectively. None of McConnell’s seven opponents have raised over $50,000.
The stark difference in fundraising between McGrath and McConnell's campaigns, however, is where that money is coming from. Over two thirds of McGrath's campaign funds have come from donations of under $200, with an average donation of about $35, according to the McGrath campaign. By comparison, nearly half of McConnell's funding has come from donations of $2,000 or more.
"It's awesome that people are powering my campaign, not special interests or a group that Mitch McConnell works for, none of that. I'm really proud of that," McGrath said.
WVXU reached out to McConnell, but his campaign declined to comment. All three Democrats - McGrath, Broihier and Booker - can be heard on Wednesday's Cincinnati Edition.
Both McGrath and McConnell have emphasized the response to COVID-19 as a key issue in this election, though McGrath has critiqued the McConnell-led federal response.
"There was quite a bit of delay at the federal level in reacting to this pandemic, both from the (presidential) administration and from Sen. McConnell," she said. "The first time (McConnell) even talked about coronavirus as a concern ... was when the stock market tanked. That shows you clearly his priorities."
McConnell, however, points to his concerns over the national debt as leading his reaction to COVID-19 and as his reasoning for delaying future federal stimulus. McConnell spoke with WVXU’s Michael Monks on Cincinnati Edition May 29.
"We're at a low point now, but we've added $3 trillion to the national debt," he said. "We may well do more, but one of the things we have to weigh here is how much debt can we add without threatening the future of the country."
One place where the two candidates do seem to agree is the response to widespread protests in Louisville and around the country sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. Protests began in Louisville over Floyd’s death and the death of paramedic Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville Metro Police in her home. Black restaurant owner David McAtee was also killed by Louisville police during the protests on May 1.
"These protesters in Louisville and around the country are people whose voices are demanding to be heard," McGrath said. "We have real racial injustice in this country and communities are hurting. What Breonna Taylor's mother Tamika Taylor said really resonated with me: 'We all should demand justice for Breonna and a transparent investigation, but no more violence right now.' That's what leaders need to be echoing."
McConnell made a similar statement, calling for an end to violence in Louisville while supporting the right to protest peacefully in the city.
"We've seen incidents like these throughout our history, but it seems like fortunately, cooler heads always prevail," he said. "It's important to remember that peaceful protests are fine but violent reactions to things that we observe that are horrendous are not helpful."
As Kentuckians go to the ballot box on June 23 for the state's primary elections, both McConnel and McGrath are expected to win and advance to the Nov. 3 general election. Eligible voters can request mail-in ballots at GoVoteKY.com by June 15.