FRANKFORT, KY – Calling her party's victory in the Kentucky governor's race a jolt of momentum for her own bid to unseat a Republican incumbent, Democrat Amy McGrath on Friday officially filed to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in what looms as a bruising, big-spending campaign next year.
McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, touted many of the same issues — health care and good-paying jobs — that Andy Beshear highlighted in ousting Republican incumbent Matt Bevin in last month's election for governor. Beshear ran a “great campaign" that focused on issues that hit home for Kentuckians, McGrath said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
“It absolutely gives us momentum because it shows that against an unpopular Republican incumbent, a Democrat can win," McGrath said. “And we win by talking about those bread-and-butter issues that Kentuckians really care about.
“And that's what I'm going to be talking about over and over again," she said. “With Mitch McConnell, we're not going to get any progress on these things."
McGrath became the latest in a crowded field of candidates from both parties to file for McConnell's seat. McGrath, who lost a hotly contested congressional race last year, has shown her mettle as a fundraiser, raking in nearly $11 million in her first few months as a Senate candidate, giving her a huge advantage over other Democratic candidates. McConnell has his own bulging campaign fund.
Another Democrat, Mike Broihier, also filed Friday as a U.S. Senate candidate. Broihier is a political newcomer with a broad resume as a Marine officer, farmer and small-town newspaperman.
Broihier also listed health care and the need for more good-paying jobs as key issues.
“Voters are energized," he said in an interview, adding that the coalition that put Beshear in the governor's office is “raring to go again" in the Senate race.
As the most powerful Republican in Congress, McConnell enters the race as a strong favorite in his pursuit of a seventh Senate term in 2020. The Republican senator touts his leadership position and his ability to deliver federal money for the Bluegrass State. This week, McConnell said he had a direct hand in securing $400 million for a new veterans hospital in Louisville, $25 million to fight Asian carp in western Kentucky and coal miner pension and health benefits.
McGrath tried to blunt that advantage of incumbency.
“Kentuckians know that his job is more than just bringing a check to Kentucky," she said Friday. “Where is his leadership on saving health care? Where is he at with the rising cost of prescription drugs? Why hasn't he done anything to stop the trade war that's hurting farmers and businesses in Kentucky? Where's he at with raising the minimum wage?
“It's nice that he's getting money for Kentucky, but the rest of the job is so important," she added. “And it's actually bigger and broader and he's failing at all of these other things."
McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden fired back, saying: “Amy McGrath knows she can’t possibly make a cogent argument that she could do a fraction of the good Mitch McConnell does for Kentucky, so she’s left with this disjointed, half-baked justification for her candidacy that is simply not ready for prime time."
McGrath said Friday she would work to strengthen the Affordable Care Act. She said she supports adding a public option to the health care law to give people “the choice of buying a government plan, much like I do as a military retiree." She also stressed the need for action to lower prescription costs.
In another jab at McConnell, McGrath said she supports term limits. She said there's “a real disconnect" between McConnell and “every day Kentuckians."
On the issue of impeachment, McGrath accused McConnell of shirking his “constitutional duty." She was referring to McConnell's comments that there would be “total coordination” between the White House and the Senate over the upcoming presidential impeachment trial.
McGrath said it was premature to say whether she would support the president's acquittal or conviction when the trial takes place. Senators should review the evidence and then make a judgment, she said.
Trump won Kentucky by a landslide in 2016 and will be a prohibitive favorite in the state next year when McGrath tries to dislodge McConnell. The Republican senator touts his close ties with Trump — from passing a tax overhaul to confirming conservative federal judges picked by the president.
But McGrath sees an opportunity to win over Trump supporters drawn to a political outsider.
“If you want more of the same, Mitch McConnell is your guy," McGrath said. “He is the ultimate insider. He is the epitome of dysfunction in Washington. You can't drain the swamp, as President Trump has touted doing, without getting rid of Mitch McConnell."