News that Democrat and Marine veteran Amy McGrath will be running in 2020 for the Senate seat currently held by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was greeted locally on Tuesday with reactions that were less than ringing endorsements.
That's not necessarily surprising in a county with such a strong Republican majority, but even local Democrats acknowledge that McConnell as a 35-year incumbent will be a formidable foe for the relative political newcomer who lost her first race against Congressman Andy Barr last year in the more liberal-friendly 6th District.
"Senator McConnell is a tough opponent with a lot of money in his war chest," Dr. Rodney Casada, who chairs the Pulaski County Democrat Party, said Tuesday afternoon. "He runs strong in Kentucky and particularly strong here, so it will be doubly hard for her in Pulaski County."
Dr. Casada added that while he's not surprised by McGrath's announcement, others are also likely to enter the race. "She's got a tough road but she'll give a strong race. I wish her the best of luck."
The doctor's Republican counterpart, Bill Turpen, was less diplomatic about McGrath's chances for victory.
"Her political philosophy and stance on the issues have already been exposed," the Pulaski GOP chair said. "Amy McGrath is totally out of touch with Kentuckians and our values. She's tried once in a liberal area and the voters didn't care for her then."
Turpen further warned that McGrath is more Hollywood than Kentucky in terms of both funding and support. "If elected, that's who she'd represent," he said. "People should know that."
While Democrats may still outnumber Republicans in terms of statewide registered voters, the conservative party has been gaining ground for years and has mostly overtaken the slate of federal legislators Kentuckians send to Washington, D.C. In the 2016 presidential election, Kentuckians favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by some 30 points.
However, Democrats have been encouraged this year by polls indicating that just over half of Kentucky voters disapprove of the job that Sen. McConnell's doing. A Democrat nominee could win, particularly if she or he rallies enough Independent support.
For this campaign, McGrath seems to want to run more as a moderate. In an interview Tuesday morning, she said she was concerned by candidates in the recent Democratic presidential debates positioning themselves too far to the left. In the three-minute video announcing her campaign, she blamed McConnell for the current divisive atmosphere.
"Everything that's wrong in Washington had to start some place. How did it come to this, that even within our own families we can't talk to each other about the leaders of our country anymore without anger and blame? Well, that started with this man, who was elected a lifetime ago," McGrath said of McConnell.
Senator McConnell's team didn't seem concerned about his chances in the face of McGrath's challenge.
"Amy McGrath lost her only race in a Democratic wave election because she is an extreme liberal who is far out of touch with Kentuckians," McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden stated in response to the news. "Comparing President Trump's election to 9/11, endorsing a government takeover of healthcare, and calling the wall 'stupid' is a heckuva platform that we will be delighted to discuss over the next sixteen months."
The race could get heated, if commenters to this newspaper's Facebook post announcing McGrath's candidacy give any indication. The post garnered more than 100 comments in just a few hours time. Here are just a few:
"I've never been a huge fan of Mitch personally but I would crawl to the polls through broken glass to vote for him against this Hollywood-Funded Ultra Liberal," Dale Weddle wrote.
"Thank you Dale Weddle!" Anna Phelps replied. "People think we won't vote for her because she is a woman. Like you said, I may not be a fan of Mitch, but I sure won't vote for what she stands for."
"I mean I'd love for her to beat Mitch," Tyler Ritchie posted, "but McConnell still has a huge following in Kentucky so she definitely has a long road ahead of her."
Travis Walden wrote: "I would vote for Lucifer Morningstar to get Mitch out." (Lucifer Morningstar is a dramatic characterization of the Devil from the popular TV show "Lucifer.")
"I hope Kentuckians have the balls to finally vote the one man that has done more to destroy our democracy than anyone, including Presidents," wrote Theresa Neal Lennon. "It is too bad many Kentuckians can't see how dangerous McConnell has become to our Democracy."
"We don't need another left wing liberal. A vote for a Democrat is a vote for Socialism," Cline B. Calhoun posted. "Does she think being in combat qualifies her to be a senator? Hey, I guess I can run for president!"
"I still believe in democracy and Mitch has destroyed it," Ruth Denham-Roberts Wronikowski posted. "If you don't like Amy then don't vote for either."
"Great... The annoying commercials are coming back," Ryan Sutton wrote, referring to the near-incessant ads which ran on Lexington-area stations during the Barr-McGrath race.