Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the chief congressional ally of President Donald Trump, defeated his Democratic challenger to capture a seventh term Tuesday and build on his legacy as Kentucky’s longest-serving U.S. senator.
The 78-year-old McConnell defeated Democrat Amy McGrath in the election Tuesday. McGrath is a retired Marine combat pilot who challenged him as a political outsider.
More than 1.5 million ballots were cast in Kentucky during weeks of mail-in and early in-person voting because of the coronavirus pandemic, leading up to actual Election Day balloting.
At the top of the ballot in the state, President Donald Trump won Republican-leaning Kentucky over Democrat Joe Biden. Kentucky also held down-ballot contests that included races for Congress and the legislature.
The Senate race dominated statewide airwaves as McConnell and McGrath offered stark contrasts.
McConnell played up his decades-long Senate career as an asset for Kentucky while McGrath portrayed the veteran politician as personifying everything that’s wrong with Washington. Both candidates poured tens of millions of campaign dollars into a race that was influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the federal response to the health crisis.
McConnell, the longest-serving Republican Senate leader in history, said his leadership post enables him to deliver federal money and to craft policy benefiting the Bluegrass State.
As Trump’s top ally on Capitol Hill, McConnell led efforts to defend Trump during his impeachment acquittal in the Senate and worked with Trump on a tax overhaul.
McGrath, 45, is a term-limits advocate who said she represented a new generation of leadership. She portrayed McConnell as an obstacle to progress on health care, immigration and racial and economic justice issues.
For McGrath, it was her second loss since 2018, when she was defeated in a congressional race.
The federal response to the coronavirus pandemic became a campaign flash point. McGrath faulted McConnell for the lack of another federal virus relief package in the weeks before the election. McConnell blamed Democrats and touted his role in passing a $2 trillion virus aid bill early in the pandemic that delivered more than $13 billion for Kentucky.
Republicans have long dominated federal elections in Kentucky, backed by overwhelming support across the state’s sprawling rural regions. The last time Kentucky Democrats won a U.S. Senate race was in 1992 with Wendell Ford. Trump’s enduring popularity in Kentucky, along with McConnell’s generation-long presence as a force in statewide politics, made the odds long again this year for Democrats.
McGrath tried overcoming those disadvantages by running a tireless, aggressive campaign. She raised tens of millions in campaign cash — fueled by Democratic anger toward McConnell as Trump’s chief congressional bulwark in pushing a conservative agenda. McConnell, always a prolific fundraiser himself, had huge amounts of campaign money at his disposal as well, and the two candidates ran hard-edged TV ads hitting each other.
McConnell and McGrath differed on a range of issues, highlighted by their vast differences on health care policy. McConnell has pushed to repeal the Affordable Care Act for years, while McGrath supports the Obama-era health care law, which provides health insurance for tens thousands of Kentuckians. She supported adding a public health insurance option and expanding access to Medicare for people 55 and older.