Kentucky primary could upend D.C. power dynamics
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The eyes of the nation and its capital are on Kentucky Tuesday as voters head to the polls. National observers are closely tracking the race to unseat the country’s most powerful senator.
It may be another week before we know which Democrat will serve as the party’s U.S. Senate candidate in November’s general election. But, in the politically deep-red Bluegrass State – whoever emerges from today’s primary is all but certain to face off against an institution: Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Whether you like him or not, whether you agree with him or disagree with him, this is a smart candidate who knows how to win,” said Georgetown University Political Science Professor Mark Rom of Sen. McConnell.
Rom said Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C. see former fighter pilot Amy McGrath as their best bet for an upset. Meanwhile, State Senator Charles Booker is picking up endorsements from the Bernie Sanders wing of the national party.
But, Rom argues the biggest threat to McConnell, is if President Donald Trump becomes toxic at the top of the ticket. “McConnell has tied his political stars to the Trump ship,” he said.
McGrath has raised more money than any Senate candidate up for election this year. Jessica Taylor with the Cook Political Report said that’s a big reason they rate the race as ‘likely Republican’ rather than ‘solid Republican’.
"But also, when you dig deeper, McConnell has pretty high negatives, which could make him vulnerable," she added.
Taylor said McConnell is still the odds-on favorite; a Booker victory could move their rating back to “solid Republican”.
But, if GOP-aligned groups are forced to spend big to defend McConnell’s seat, Republicans may pay a political price in states like Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina. The Cook Political Report rates each of those races -- with Republican incumbents -- as a tossup.
“If Democrats could force them to spend here in Kentucky, then that is money that’s off the table in more competitive races,” said Taylor.
If McConnell wins re-electon, but Republicans lose a net of four seats in the Senate, then by late-January, he’ll be leading the minority rather than majority.
National politics watchers aren’t just watching the race. They’ll be keeping an eye on turnout and whether the state’s efforts to conduct an election during a pandemic run smoothly.
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