In the week following July 4th, rare sightings of a strange creature from the east were reported across Kentucky. When he visits the state where he has served in the Senate since 1985, Mitch McConnell, the old swamp monster from Washington, DC, usually roams not far from the Tony Louisville neighborhood, where he has a residence. A senior Democrat told me last summer at Fancy Farm, the state’s annual political picnic, “If that buzzard shows up all over Kentucky, you can be damn sure of one thing: He’s up for re-election. ”
Sure enough, as he was heading for his seventh term in the Senate, McConnell showed up in all sorts of unlikely locations during the traditional two-week hiatus on July 4th. The Senate majority leader had left Washington when he protested because he had refused to cancel the break. Democrats, too, seemed to think that passing another coronavirus aid package to deal with the pandemic and economic collapse should take precedence over holidays or campaigns.
McConnell didn’t turn a blind eye. There has never been a more pressing business for him than his next campaign. “More than anyone in Washington, he is an example of the permanent campaign mindset that is about winning the next election and nothing else matters” explains Alec MacGillis, the aptly titled biography of McConnell The cynic. “For McConnell, it’s not really about what he does while in power, or tackling problems [pursue] his party’s political goals, whatever they are. It’s really just about preparing to win the next race. “
And so the millions of Americans desperately concerned about evictions, school reopening plans, stimulus controls, and unemployment benefits – not to mention life and death in the Covid-19 cases – just had to cool their jets until McConnell, Jan. July Returned In Morehead and Willisburg, Bardstown and Glasgow, Bowling Green and Henderson, Leitchfield and Covington, there were far more pressing matters to attend to, to name but a few of his stops. He did not hold any rallies in these places. He doesn’t make any rallies, any more than he mingles with voters. This was a carefully scripted photo op tour designed to highlight the senator’s caring, compassion, generosity, and statesmanship during the pandemic.
For example, on Monday, July 6th, the Senate majority leader could be found standing at a microphone at Flaget Memorial Hospital in Bardstown, funded by the Cares Act in March. Virtually every stop on his itinerary has been a hospital or health clinic that has been funded – meaning everywhere he goes he will be commended and thanked for his carefully calibrated remarks that urge Kentuckians to take personal responsibility during the pandemic take. “Everyone has a role to play to make this happen,” McConnell said solemnly in the distinctive, profound expression he acquired as a child in Alabama and Georgia. “It was clear that when we started opening up the economy again, a lot of people thought, ‘Let the good times roll. “And a lot of people went out and we saw the cases worsen.” His face was a perfect expression of disapproval. “Since we’re not going to close the economy again, we have to figure out how to work this through and the best we can do is wear a mask.” He waved a light blue disposable model in the air to make an impact.
It is similar in city by city. The Senator knows his sermons about wearing masks are perfect for the local 6 o’clock news or the next morning’s local paper, which is sure to mention how much money McConnell gave to the clinic or hospital to get survive the crisis. As he roams the state to show his benevolence and sober leadership, his campaign reinforces the message by running a new ad titled “Rescued, “With a number of small business owners who thanked him for saving a living with the Paycheck Protection Program. This is Vintage McConnell – every six years at least.
He knows he has to do everything he can by November. He’s never been popular – let alone loved – in Kentucky, not even among Republicans. Since becoming majority leader after his re-election in 2014, he has been considered one of the most despicable members of Congress at home. in August 2017, McConnell’s approval rating in Kentucky was an almost unthinkable 18 percent. His instinct for survival told him in 2017 that his best choice for the next election would be to hitch his car on Donald Trump, who raised Kentucky 30 points in 2016, though McConnell reportedly detested the presidents. So he became Trump’s unlikely but loyal lieutenant, and delivered the few major political triumphs the president can claim – all these conservative judges and all these tax cuts for the rich, especially.
Holding on to Trump seemed like a better strategy a year ago than it is today. But despite Trump’s terrible and terrible 2020, he’s still far more popular than the Senator. And so McConnell is stuck no matter what depths of madness and depravity Trump plumbs between now and November. He cannot afford to poke the bear, risks becoming a target of Trump’s wrath and alienating the president’s fans in Kentucky. Cautious and calculating, McConnell has no choice but to cling to the heads of the most undisciplined politician in American history.
Meanwhile, the Senator is experiencing a different reality for the first time: he is beaten while fundraising and prematurely knocked into the air by his Democratic opponent Amy McGrath while being attacked by a variety of well-funded PACs and groups to take on him. McConnell has always wanted to be the majority leader, but it sure complicates things when it comes to winning again. “He’s never seen so many early and sustained attacks,” said Al Cross, Kentucky dean of political journalists who has covered McConnell for nearly three decades. “It had never been scrutinized so closely at the national level.” And because he has no reservoir of popularity or loyalty to fall back on, he has to stick with Trump, get to hell or flood. ”
Even with so much stacked against him, you will have a hard time finding a political observer who believes McConnell can lose. (Polls mostly rate the race as likely Republican.) Part of the reason is that the GOP wins almost everything in Kentucky these days, and Trump will almost certainly be taking the state back. It’s also because no one can imagine McConnell losing. Rightly or not, he is widely considered to be the smartest, most ruthless, and strategically brilliant politician in the world – while this year’s opponent emerged from the June Democratic primary despite her fundraising skills and looked fatally flawed and hopelessly outdone.
M.cGrath should be sailing smoothly for the Democratic nomination this June. She quickly became a rising star in 2017 when her long-term campaign for the house with one of the liveliest videos of the midterm elections, a nifty biographical account of how she became the first Marine woman to fly an F / A-18 in combat and how she returned to her home state on a “new mission” to “take over a congress full of career politicians who treat them Kentucky people as if they were available. ” She fell shortly before the deposition of Republican Andy Barr, a McConnell acolyte after making some rookie mistakes Republicans used to redefine the centrist navy on a mission as a secret left radical.
At a fundraiser in Massachusetts in 2018, McGrath was a little too eager to please her audience. claim“I’m further to the left, I’m more progressive than anyone in the state of Kentucky.” And on a talk radio show at home, she answered questions about abortion from robotically repeated her prepared topic of conversation– “I don’t think the government should be involved in a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body.” – Even after the host asked, “So you think a woman is on her way to the hospital for childbirth might choose to quit instead? “By November, those audio clips were broadcasting so many times on radio and television in McGrath’s borough that most voters probably could have repeated them verbatim. But she raised a ton of money from admirers across the country and shaved about 19 points from Barr’s previous lead,” and that was enough for Chuck Schumer, the Chair of the Democratic Senate, to recruit them to try again in 2020, this time against McConnell.
By June 1st, three weeks before elementary school this summer, McGrath had raised nearly $ 41 millionmore than any other Senate candidate in the country. That made it all the more shocking considering that she was on the verge of losing the nomination to Charles Booker, a first-term representative who entered the race in late January and started the final track with less than $ 300,000. If McGrath had lost with all that money and all of its other benefits, “it would have been one of the greatest pitfalls in American political history,” says Cross.
McGrath had almost sunk her chances long before – as soon as she announced her candidacy in July 2019. After promoting their bid on Tomorrow Joewhen, “she immediately fired a Sidewinder missile into her own foot” Courier Journal columnist Joseph Gerth put itby criticizing McConnell for not being helpful enough to translate Trump’s “good ideas” into politics. “The things that Kentuckians voted for Trump are not being done,” she said. “He can’t make it because of Senator McConnell.” In a later interview, she was asked if she considered herself a “pro-Trump Democrat” and would rather disapprove than deny it. “It’s not about being pro-Trump or anti-Trump.” she said. “You can’t put me in a partisan box. And that’s the main difference between me and someone like Senator McConnell. If it’s a good idea, I’ll be for it. It doesn’t matter whether you wear a red or a blue jersey.”
If that wasn’t enough to make the progressives flinch, things got worse as interviewers turned to the controversial Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. How would she have voted? McGrath, who tweeted her opposition to Kavanaugh in July, was chipped, hacked, then finally answered“Yes, I would probably have voted for him.”
Cue Twitter outbreak. At 7:30 ClockMcGrath hastily reversed course tweet that “after further reflection and understanding of his record, I would have voted no.” For some on the left, she was now permanently branded as a pro-Trump Democrat who was so eager to roam to the right that she had become pro-Kavanaugh. To conservatives, she looked like a flip-flopper that had easily yielded to the pressures of the warriors of social justice. (“Take your third position later,” chirped a Republican Senate adviser. “The night is young.”) She just looked incapable to others, especially a candidate trying to shoot McConnell down.
In the chorus of screams and mockery, the news that should have emerged from McGrath’s moment as McConnell’s new challenger was forgotten: Despite everything, she had raised a record $ 2.5 million in the first 24 hours of her opening video. National donors never stopped advocating McGrath, especially since no viable Democratic challengers showed up until Booker stepped forward. Her campaign’s anti-McConnell messages were often sharp and timely on social media and in her daily email explosions. She ran a general election campaign from the start, which seemed certain. By April Booker had climbed to second place, albeit with only 11 percent.
Booker, who likes to note that he lives in one of the poorest zip codes in Kentucky, the predominantly African-American West End of Louisville, had bold and clear progressive ideas (universal basic income, a Green New Deal, and systemic criminal justice reform). He thrilled the Democrats from the start with his “Hood to roarThe message of bringing working Kentuckians together across racial and geographical boundaries – or at least impressing the Democrats he could reach without spending a lot of money on advertising and with the pandemic that prevented him from personally raising support across the state. Liberal donors had long accepted, nationally, that McGrath was the anti-McConnell candidate for 2020, just as Schumer intended, and Booker received little attention outside of Kentucky. Until everything changed.
On May 28 – three days after the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd sparked protests across the country and 26 days before the first – the tone of the fatal police shots in Louisville of medical worker Breonna Taylor was released two months earlier . The West End rose immediately, followed by protests across the state, and Booker quickly became a leading and powerfully resonant voice that was both calm and defiant. On June 1, he showed up for the primary school’s only democratic debate, fresh off the streets. His campaign-long message was made for the moment; McGrath wasn’t ready for this. When a moderator asked if she was “with the demonstrators”, she admitted that she had not done so. Why? “I was with my family,” she said, “and I had a family, um, here we go.”
After the donations finally came in, Booker transformed McGrath’s moment of the deer in the spotlight into a moment devastating adand contrasts it with footage in which he speaks into a megaphone as a “good troublemaker”. He soon took notes from major state newspapers and national politicians, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; He also held rallies across the state and rose in the polls. In all of his Kentucky politics, Cross had never seen anything like it. “He just caught fire – caught a wave like no candidate I’ve ever seen,” says Cross.
The turnout in the Democratic primary was far higher than expected, no doubt due to the first-time voter who inspired Booker. He was in the lead on election night, but since most of the ballots were being sent in, it was a week before the final settlement. McGrath was unlikely to be saved by the ballots sent in prior to Booker’s boom. “If the area code had been postponed or all the ballots had been cast in the last week,” says Cross, “he would have won.”
M.cConnell deserves its riches Reputation as a master of the art of political destruction, since his first local race in 1977. He learned it partly out of necessity. Blessed with almost none of the assets typical of a victorious politician – charisma, eloquence, ideological passion, wealth – he decided early on that his surest path to victory was to make his opponents even less popular than he is. Nothing is forbidden for Team Mitch. McConnell has used marital disputes, allegedly corrupt family members, inherited wealth, prescription drug habits, and membership in a fox hunting club to label his opponents as corrupt, darkly menacing, out of control, or elitist and alien.
“McConnell’s campaign style is personal destruction.” writes Matt Jones, the founder and popular presenter of Kentucky Sports Radio, in his book Mitch please! Just thinking about a Democratic run for the Senate, Jones found that he was already followed by a McConnell tracker; A private investigator was digging for dirt. McConnell himself captured the spirit of the operation in a secretly taped meeting in 2013 about a potential adversary. “If someone sticks their head up,” he said to his servants, “take them out.” In order to destroy an opponent’s reputation in the McConnell preferred manner, it is important to have an overwhelming financial advantage to drown out the Democrat’s defense. “As I always say,” McConnell writes in his 2016 memoir, ” The long game“The three most important words in politics are ‘cash on hand’.” From the beginning, he was a relentless fundraiser, doing generous favors to his corporations and wealthy benefactors and, of course, expecting generous returns from them. As former Republican Senator Alan Simpson told McConnell’s biographer MacGillis, “When you hoist the flag and someone yells from the back of the room,” Does anyone want to go to a fundraiser and raise some money? “Mitch will be right there. It’s a pleasure for him. He gets a wink and his pace speeds up.”
It is this quirk that has allowed McConnell to rise over the years as he did not have the bonhomie that usually helps senators climb the leadership ladder. He also became the most ardent opponent of campaign finance reform in the Chamber, even when championed by other Republicans like John McCain. While others in the party were reluctant to speak out against the McCain Feingold Act, the most ambitious effort to contain political money in the past few decades, McConnell took up the fight. After the law was passed, he challenged it in court and established a legal center dedicated to the overthrow. His efforts bore fruit Citizens United Decision that created today’s dark money chaos.
Unsurprisingly, McConnell is damn good at taking advantage of the system he’s done so much for. In his last two races, he had $ 10 million and $ 12 million advantages over his Democratic opponents. In the first two quarters of this year, he raised more than ever: $ 36 million, Almost 90 percent of these came from non-governmental donors (also known as Wall Street & Co.). Still, McGrath raised more. In addition to their efforts, the Ditch Mitch Fund, a PAC of political activist Ryan Aquilina, had raised $ 14 million by early September to be used to help McConnell on talk radio stations in Kentucky, Fox News, and social media as well to other places where Trump voters who don’t like McConnell can wander around. “So much money goes into your campaign and our fund that we can get a little creative,” says Aquilina. “When you talk to people [in Kentucky] Who voted for Trump, the reason they like him, is the reason they hate McConnell. Many of them still believe that Trump is taking over the establishment; They all think McConnell is part of the swamp and just for himself. ”
In the past, McConnell ran against seasoned politicians with voting results, donors, allies, years of speeches and financial claims that could be exploited and exaggerated. But McGrath spent most of her adult life either at the Naval Academy, where she later taught, or in the Marine Corps. She has three young children, and was never divorced Your husband is a republican. Team Mitch will no doubt find something for them. But McGrath’s life doesn’t seem to offer much to Team Mitch-Mühle.
Since McGrath entered the race, McConnell’s campaign has had to revive and repackage the two gaffes Barr used against her in 2018 The campaign’s reaction to news of their narrow victory in June was typical: “Extreme Amy McGrath … is just another tool of the Washington Democratic establishment that has no idea what is most important to Kentuckians,” said Kate Cooksey, McConnell press secretary. “It is clear that this self-proclaimed most liberal person in Kentucky who continues to support state health care and abortion in ninth month is not a Kentucky value.”
This is stale stuff – actually unworthy of a McConnell campaign. But that’s the same note it’s been sounding for 13 months. And branding McGrath as a left-wing extremist is harder to sell after Booker and Mike Broihier, the other progressive candidate who challenged them in Democratic Elementary School, In May and June, ads were displayed penalizing her for being too moderateAlso Trump-positive and not even a real Democrat. As a sign that a screw is loose somewhere in McConnell’s campaign, Team Mitch published an attack report in early July with the title “reviews“Quoting negative comments on McGrath during the main campaign, and Booker scourging her for selling” BS “to Kentuckians.” That is an entirely different argument than what they have been making all along that they are too is extreme, “says Cross.
While Team Mitch is apparently still looking for something to hit McGrath with, their campaign and the anti-McConnell PACs and groups is what can only be described as an embarrassment of the wealth when it comes to angles of attack him. Name any political sin you like, and chances are, McConnell – like former Democratic Senate chairman Lyndon Johnson – has committed and counted them repeatedly for four decades.
W.While McGrath’s campaign for the Senate has already been declared dead twice, a close political observer who has never stopped taking her seriously is her opponent. Team Mitch started meeting “Extreme Amy” as soon as she started the race (and then got in), and McConnell’s refusal to miss a day off to be in Kentucky doesn’t suggest he is feeling happy Confidence in what to expect this fall. Of course, he was never one to take victory for granted. This is a big reason why he has never seen defeat.
But in mid-July there was a concrete sign that McConnell had his worries. The Senate Leadership Fund, run by McConnell’s former chief of staff and raising mega-millions to help other GOP Senators face challenges (and keep them loyal to their leader), announced this bought $ 10 million worth of television time in Kentucky for the fall. Shortly thereafter, another McConnell-affiliated PAC booked $ 4.5 million of airtime in Kentucky for August. “I know it’s a cliché,” Aquilina says, “but money speaks volumes. Why are national Republicans spending $ 15 million so far in a state where Trump won by 30 points? To take away from Kansas, Montana and Colorado, that says a lot. You clearly think Kentucky is a competitive state. “Maybe. But when it comes to helping other Republicans struggling to keep their seats – or even the Senate majority – and his own survival, McConnell has shown that he will choose the latter every time.
McConnell has his challenges – not least the fact that as a Senate majority leader without a functioning president, he cannot avoid ruling and legislating during an ongoing national emergency. He won’t be able to avoid sharing the blame if the pandemic continues to spiral out of control, especially if it soars in Kentucky. This has not yet been the case due to the permanent leadership of Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat who defeated incumbent Republican and Trump alumni Matt Bevin last fall. Beshear’s win raised Kentucky Democrats’ hopes for 2020, but it’s a slim reed: his party still lost every second statewide election. “If anything, Kentucky is getting redder,” wrote Thirty-five Contributor Perry Bacon Jr. most recently November after the elections outside of the year. But key local voters rebelling against Trump across the country were Trend blue in Kentucky since 2014.
And McConnell is tied to Trump, which is his own particular hell. The Senator looked downright uncomfortable during the Republican National Convention and appeared on a taped segment from a location identified only as “Kentucky.” After complimenting the President and boasting, “I work beside him every day,” McConnell turned into a litany of conspiratorial red meat. “They want to tell you what kind of car you can drive, what sources of information are credible, and even how many hamburgers you can eat.” He tried to giggle.
There is no question, however, that McGrath faces the longer odds. If Trump’s popularity isn’t down, she’ll still have to convince many of the president’s Kentucky fans to switch sides on the second line of the ballot. At the same time, she has to convince Booker’s fans that she is worth voting for. That would be a difficult combination for even the most agile politicians. One benefit of being in general electoral mode since July last year is that McGrath has had plenty of time to sharpen her message about McConnell.
When I first interviewed her for nearly an hour at her campaign office in Lexington last summer, McGrath was still figuring it out. She still had nasty things to say about Trump and partisan boxing, and she wriggled around political issues. But whenever the conversation turned to McConnell, she stepped in. Suddenly she knew what she wanted to say and she just said it. “I want people like Mitch McConnell out because they’re making the rest of America cynical. The dysfunction, Bob! We have a whole generation of young Americans who don’t know how a government works. Because of him. He’s not in the Swamp. It’s the swamp.
“His story was always,” Look at me, I am so powerful, I do so much for Kentucky. “We now have the highest cancer rate in the country. One in four Kentuckians has diabetes. We have the second highest per capita spending on prescription drugs in the country. We have an opioid crisis where we have twice the death rate compared to the national average. And we have a senator who keeps trying to kick people out of the health service! We have a senator who doesn’t want to work on lowering drug prices. He was bought out by Big Pharma. “And what did he do when his party was the whole Had power and the presidency? “He has recorded massive tax losses for people like him, for millionaires like him. This is the only important law he made, Mr. Powerful Man. ”
This version of Amy McGrath could go anywhere, I thought. It took a while, but McGrath – the one after her near miss in June replaced their original campaign manager with a former organizer for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – has become a sharper, more comfortable candidate, less inclined to look for anodyne topics of conversation. In July she was a guest at The view and smiled at herself through one of Meghan McCain’s signature attempts to do a gotcha. Didn’t she think, McCain asked, that the reason she nearly lost her elementary school had something to do with the fact that 96 percent of her contributions came from outside of the state? Did she have any connection with Kentucky at all? Was that your problem? “Mitch McConnell gets roughly 95 percent of his money from outside of Kentucky,” snapped McGrath. “My average donation is $ 35. And when that vet from Iowa gives me $ 25 … he’s not giving me a bill at the same time. “The clip was soon posted on Twitter, a year after the mess with Kavanaugh. In a good way this time.