The final days of the race for U.S. Senate in Kentucky are about U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Depending on who’s giving the stump speech, McConnell has either destroyed democracy or he is the last line of defense against a radical mob hell bent on bending the country toward socialism.
In their final push before Election Day, McConnell and his Democratic challenger Amy McGrath are painting diametrically opposed pictures of Kentucky and America, stoking the concerns of a polarized electorate in an election both call “the most important” of our lifetime.
McGrath, considered a significant underdog in the race, has accused McConnell of creating the partisan rancor in Washington D.C. that has stalled coronavirus relief legislation and other key measures and created a growing divide between Democrats and Republicans. She holds up “patriots” like John McCain, one of McConnell’s former top rivals on campaign finance reform, as an example of bipartisanship.
“This election is so important because you know Kentucky can do so much better and our country can do better,” McGrath said Tuesday. “We have a Senator who’s basically just sold us out… he hasn’t done a whole lot in good faith and we need to change that. You know that we need change.”
McConnell, however, is making the case that Democrats are trying to fundamentally change the country.
“These people are radical, they’re in a hurry,” McConnell said at a campaign stop in Anderson County. “They want to change the country dramatically… They want to change the Senate itself, its rules, its composition. And then, my friends, pack the Supreme Court.”
McConnell’s push to quickly confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court drew criticism from McGrath and poured money into her campaign from irate Democrats across the nation, but the Senate majority leader has crisscrossed Kentucky touting his role in the nomination. Reshaping the federal judiciary has been a top priority for McConnell, who notes that it’s a change Democrats can’t easily undo should they take control of the Senate next year.
“It was a wonderful birthday present for Hillary Clinton to confirm Amy Coney Barrett Monday night on her birthday,” McConnell said sarcastically. “I’m sure she was so grateful. So grateful.”
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, who was an intern with McConnell for former Sen. John Sherman Cooper in the ‘60s, criticized McConnell over his push to confirm Supreme Court justices
“You have to give Mitch credit,” Yarmuth said. “After all, he has exceeded expectations. When he was growing up in Alabama, nobody would have ever thought that his dream of destroying even one branch of government would ever be achieved and yet he’s destroyed three of them.”
McConnell’s pitch to voters throughout the campaign has been his clout — that by being the only party leader in the House and Senate that isn’t from California or New York, he’s the one representing the values of Kentucky and Middle America.
On Wednesday, his state campaign director, Jonathan Shell, compared McConnell to Trump’s proposed wall on the Southern border.
“I thank God for Mitch McConnell every day and the position that you have to ensure that our rights are protected from the radical left,” Shell said. “And he is the embodiment of that border and that fence that is keeping them at bay.”
McGrath has questioned that narrative. She’s talked about term limits, calling for a maximum of two terms in the Senate, as a way to draw attention to the 36 years McConnell has been in the Senate.
Citing issues like high cancer rates and lack of basic infrastructure in rural communities, she’s criticized McConnell for not doing enough to help Kentuckians. She has called the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic an embarrassment, laying blame for America’s high death toll and rapidly increasing cases on a lack of leadership.
At a rally in Louisville Tuesday, several of her field directors talked about how the pandemic had personally affected them (one lost his business then found a home in the McGrath campaign, another lost her job before working with the McGrath campaign) and criticized McConnell for not passing another COVID-19 relief package before the election.
McConnell, though, is painting a picture of an America that was on the right track before the pandemic, and one that will resume that course after a coronavirus vaccine is administered.
On Wednesday, he seized on McGrath’s use of the word “embarrassment” when describing national leaders and referenced a comment from their debate in which McGrath mentioned Anderson County’s infrastructure when asked by McConnell for her plan to improve Eastern Kentucky.
“America’s not an embarrassment,” McConnell said. “Let me tell you what’s an embarrassment — a candidate for the United States Senate who thinks Anderson County is in Appalachia.”
Both McGrath and McConnell are trying to whip up their base to help drive up turnout. In an unprecedented election year, millions of Kentuckians have voted early, including both candidates and many people attending their rallies. For McGrath, who faces an uphill battle in a state that elected President Trump in 2016 by 30 percentage points, that means she must bring new voters into the fold.
“We have an opportunity to do what has never been done before. Never,” said Pamela Stevenson, a Democratic candidate for the Kentucky House of Representatives in Louisville. “And on the fourth of November, I want you to look in the mirror and say I gave it all… It’s not enough for you to vote. You’ve got to get people around you to vote.”