Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defeats Democrat Amy McGrath in Kentucky

Grace Panetta,Ellen Cranley
·5 min read

 

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defeated the Democrat Amy McGrath in Kentucky's 2020 US Senate election, according to projections from Decision Desk HQ.

  • McConnell is one of the highest-profile politicians in the country — and one of the most reviled among Democrats, helping McGrath raise an eye-popping $46 million for her campaign.

  • Despite McConnell's unpopularity among Democrats and her own strong fundraising, McGrath was seen as unlikely to defeat the majority leader, who has held his Senate seat since 1986.

  • See the live coverage and full results from the US Senate elections.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defeated Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot and 2018 House candidate, in Kentucky's US Senate race, according to projections from Decision Desk HQ.

The candidates

McConnell, one of the highest-profile and influential Republicans of the past half-century, faces his sixth term in the US Senate. He's also one of the most despised Republican figures among Democrats, making Kentucky's Senate election one of the most highly watched races.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats' campaign arm last summer recruited McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who ran for a US House seat in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District in 2018, to run for McConnell's Senate seat.

McGrath faced a few stumbles in launching her campaign, including flip-flopping on whether she would have voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and arguing that McConnell's tactics as the majority leader were undermining President Donald Trump's agenda, leading some to wonder if she was trying to position herself as a pro-Trump Democrat.

Overall, however, McGrath was extremely clear in her anti-Trump messaging, including calling for the president's impeachment and backing Joe Biden early in the Democratic primary.

But her eye-catching ads and national Democrats' extreme dislike of McConnell helped make her one of the top Senate Democratic fundraisers of the cycle, bringing in a stunning $46 million with $16 million cash on hand, according to the latest campaign-finance filings.

The stakes

In addition to winning back the White House, regaining control of the Senate for the first time since 2015 is a top priority for Democrats and would help deliver on a President Biden's policy goals or thwart Trump's second-term agenda.

The Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with Democrats, meaning Democrats need to win back a net total of four seats to have a 51-seat majority. (If Biden wins, his vice president, Kamala Harris, would also serve as president of the Senate and would be a tie-breaking vote.)

Within hours of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death in September, McConnell pledged that Trump's nominee for the high court would receive a vote on the floor of the Senate, and Trump said the day after that he would name a replacement "without delay."

Ginsburg's death threw a stick of dynamite into an already supercharged election shaped by a deadly pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans.

Trump's and McConnell's posturing on the issue excited conservatives enthusiastic about the possibility of Trump getting to appoint a third justice in his first term but infuriated liberals who accused McConnell of hypocrisy after he refused to hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, in 2016.

As the Senate moved to confirm Trump's nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, McGrath hammered McConnell over his actions now and in 2016.

See Insider's full guide to the race for the US Senate here »

Despite McConnell's unpopularity among Democrats and her own impressive fundraising, McGrath was still considered unlikely to defeat the majority leader, who has held his Senate seat since 1986.

Not only did McConnell have a formidable track record and unparalleled stature in the state, but Kentucky didn't trend Democratic at a rate that could put McConnell in serious danger.

The state largely doesn't fit the demographic profile of many of the other formerly deep-red states like Arizona, Georgia, and Texas that are now trending purple thanks to sizeable blocs of college-educated voters swinging toward the Democrats.

McConnell defeated the Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by 16 percentage points six years ago, and Trump carried the state by nearly 30 points in the 2016 election.

The money race

McGrath both outraised and outspent McConnell, making Kentucky an incredibly expensive Senate contest, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

McGrath raised $90 million, spent $75.2 million, and reported $14.7 million in cash on hand as of October 14, campaign-finance filings show, while McConnell raised $51.1 million, spent $42.9 million, and reported $11.8 million in cash on hand.

In 2020's third fundraising quarter, from July 1 to September 30, McGrath brought in a $36 million haul compared with about $15.6 million for McConnell, Axios reported.

What the polling said

Recent polls had found McConnell leading McGrath by varying margins.

The most recent poll, from Morning Consult, conducted from October 22 to 31, found McConnell ahead of McGrath by 11 points, 51% to 40%, among likely voters.

A poll conducted by Mason Dixon Strategies from October 12 to 15 found McConnell leading McGrath by 9 points, 51% to 42%, among likely voters, and a Data for Progress poll conducted from September 14 to 19 found McConnell ahead of McGrath by 7 points, 48% to 41%.

A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University from September 10 to 14 found McConnell leading McGrath by 12 points, 53% to 41%, among likely voters.

Quinnipiac's previous survey, conducted July 30 to August 3, found McConnell ahead by 5 points, 49% to 44%, among registered voters.

See the live coverage and full results from the US presidential election »

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