McGrath fundraising tops $10 million in Senate race

BRUCE SCHREINER
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Election 2020-Kentucky Senate

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018, file photo, Amy McGrath speaks to supporters in Richmond, Ky. The retired Marine combat pilot is showing her mettle as a campaign fundraiser, hauling in more than $10.7 million since starting her campaign against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. McGrath has outraised the six-term Kentucky Republican so far this year, but McConnell has more campaign cash in the bank, based on their latest numbers posted by the Federal Election Commission. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Showing her mettle as a campaign fundraiser, retired Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath hauled in more than $10.7 million since launching her bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

McGrath has outpaced the powerful Republican lawmaker in fundraising since entering the race. However, based on the latest numbers posted by the Federal Election Commission, McConnell has more campaign cash in the bank. McGrath entered the race in July, and candidates post some of their best fundraising totals in the opening months of their campaigns. Still, McGrath's side trumpeted her performance in comments spiced with some smack talk aimed at McConnell.

"This is a guy (McConnell) who's created this special interest swamp and it shows that the new kid on the block is the better fundraiser," the Democratic challenger's campaign manager, Mark Nickolas, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "The senator seems to have lost a step after all these decades in office."

McGrath is among a handful of Democrats vying to challenge McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term in 2020. It will be a formidable task. McConnell is one of the most entrenched officials in Washington and a key ally of President Donald Trump, who remains popular in the bluegrass state. Kentucky has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since Wendell Ford in 1992.

McGrath's fundraising shows she'll have the resources "to take down McConnell and his self-serving special interest allies," Nickolas said. "Change is coming."

McConnell has raised slightly more than $7.5 million so far this year and well more than $13 million since 2015 in gearing up for his next reelection effort. His campaign had $9 million stockpiled in the bank at the end of September, compared to about $6.7 million for McGrath's campaign.

While McGrath's campaign pointed to a groundswell of donations from across Kentucky, McConnell's campaign said large chunks of her financial support came from places like California and New York. As the highest-ranking Republican in Congress, McConnell is a lightning rod for Democrats nationally.

"Hollywood liberals are pumping cash into McGrath's campaign because they think she'll provide California a third vote in the Senate," McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden said in a statement. "They hate that Mitch McConnell guarantees Kentucky values a spot at the front of the line. They can hand her campaign millions of dollars but they can't vote in Kentucky."

McGrath avoided Kentucky fundraisers in the past quarter to give Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andy Beshear first crack at donations in the state, Nickolas said. Beshear is in a close race with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in Kentucky's Nov. 5 election.

McConnell also taps fundraising sources nationwide, capitalizing on his Senate leadership post.

In a recent video, McConnell vowed to stop any Democratic push to remove Trump from office. McConnell is using the social media campaign ad as a platform to raise campaign funds off House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

McGrath narrowly lost a high-profile U.S. House race last year.

Besides McGrath, other Democrats in the Senate race include political newcomer Mike Broihier, who has served as a Marine officer, farmer and small-town newspaperman, as well as Steven Cox and Bennie Smith. Two prominent Democrats are looking at the race: sports talk show host Matt Jones and longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins, who finished second in this year's Democratic primary for governor.

Early on, McGrath has set her sights on McConnell. She's already run TV ads to raise her statewide profile outside the central Kentucky region where she ran for Congress. Her campaign spent a whopping $4 million in the recent quarter.

McGrath raised $2.5 million on the first day of her Senate campaign, but she soon stumbled when she waffled on whether she would have voted to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. She initially said she would have voted to confirm him but changed her mind hours later. McConnell and his campaign network quickly pounced, dubbing her "Amy McGaffe."