After the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he would ensure that any nominee of President Donald Trump would be given a floor vote in the Senate. In response to this announcement and general anxiety about the future of the Supreme Court, Democrats around the country began donating to Senate races in an effort to remove McConnell as majority leader. By the morning after Ginsburg’s death, Democrats had raised nearly $31 million for races around the country. They raised another $70.6 million over the rest of the weekend.
Many prominent Democrats, Lincoln Project Republicans, and celebrities requested that people donate directly to McConnell’s opponent in Kentucky, Amy McGrath. However, political pundits quickly pointed out that donations to this race would likely not make much difference in the outcome because McGrath is losing, and the problems with her campaign are not related to her lack of money. In addition, there are many races where the Democrat has raised less money and is closer in the polls. But this did not dissuade many liberals who have been drawn to McGrath’s fighter pilot image, despite the fact that McGrath has described herself as wanting to help President Trump “drain the swamp.”
In McGrath’s last campaign finance report she had raised over $46 million, almost $10 million more than McConnell. Even with this huge amount of money, McGrath trails McConnell by 12%, 53-41 with only 34% of Kentucky voters having a favorable view of McGrath.
McGrath has been dogged throughout her campaign by complaints from Kentuckians that she has been more focused on appealing to donors outside the state, and their idea of what a Democrat in Kentucky should look like, rather than the actual needs of voters. McGrath has raised 96.7% of her campaign money outside of Kentucky, with the top three sources of donations being New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Similar complaints also were made regarding her 2018 losing campaign for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District, a seat many at the time thought was winnable.
Tom Sexton, a resident of Whitesburg and Lexington Kentucky and co-host of the leftist podcast The Trillbilly Worker’s Party, expressed frustration with this fundraising first strategy.
“[S]he’s being used principally as a fundraising vehicle rather than a serious contender, by Chuck Schumer’s own admission he knew she would not be a very strong candidate to beat McConnell, but he knew she could raise a bunch of money mostly from people outside that state,” said Sexton.
Sexton says he saw a disastrous outreach attempt by McGrath when her visit with two coal miners with black lung disease left them feeling duped by McGrath into appearing in campaign literature. He believes this speaks to the problem that McGrath has in general of not connecting to Kentucky voters throughout the state:
“McGrath lacks any vision for how we can make people’s material conditions better in one of the nation’s poorest states. It’s just paying lip service to more tepid, incrementalist reforms that excite nobody. So all they have to run on is ‘I’m not Mitch McConnell’ and that’s not going to get it done.”
Tia Kurtsinger-Edison, a teacher and activist with the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, feels that McGrath has ignored voters and is depending on the Black community to carry her to large margins in Louisville.
“I have been trained on how to campaign. One must knock on every door and have one on one conversations especially with the folks [whose] votes that are crucial. I still have not even seen a commercial that shows that,” Kurtsinger-Edison said. “She is running out of time and I truly feel that she assumes Black folks will show up at the polls and vote straight-line. I guess she has not been paying attention in [the] last elections because Black people are not giving their votes out anymore for free.”
McGrath has also alienated many in Kentucky by being slow to respond to the Breonna Taylor shooting and the protests taking place in response. Her primary opponent, progressive Charles Booker, was very engaged in these protests. His “from the hood to the holler” campaign mobilized many young activists by connecting the struggles of poor white working class Kentuckians in Appalachia and poor Black working class people in the West End of Louisville. Because of this enthusiasm, and despite outspending Booker nearly 3 to 1, McGrath only managed to defeat Booker in the primary by 2%.
Jenny Bencomo Suárez, a community organizer who was involved in Booker’s campaign, is frustrated about McGrath’s lack of engagement with the movement.
“Much of McGrath’s outreach with folks working on police reform has largely been performative after she was called out for not having shown up to any of the protests during the uprisings. Booker was out with us in the streets, he even got tear gassed as well. McGrath wouldn’t ever stand with Kentuckians like that. Not many folks are really aware of any kind of connections she’s built with folks doing that work,” said Bencomo Suárez.
Several Black women involved in the Booker campaign have worked with McGrath primarily as a means of harm reduction. However, both Kurtsinger-Edison and Bencomo Suárez have heard from these women that their voices are not being heard in the campaign, particularly in regards to issues of race.
“I commend their work to trying to reform McGrath however despite the outreach done, primarily towards community leaders, McGrath has failed to inspire anyone, ultimately no one really trusts her,” said Bencomo Suárez.
Kurtsinger-Edison is equally frustrated with the McGrath campaign’s failure to work with the people who have been on the ground. Activists have occupied “Injustice Square” in Louisville for over 100 days and have hosted a variety of elected officials and politicians, including Booker, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, and Kentucky State Representative Attica Scott. McGrath has yet to visit.
“All the money in the world will not win you an election if you can not go to marginalized communities and tell them I hear you and I am here to help,” she said.
Sexton said it seems like Democrats are donating to McGrath primarily because it is the easiest way to feel like they are doing something without actually having to engage with issues that impact Kentuckians.
“Amy McGrath already has an insane war chest and she’s trailing by double digits six weeks out,” said Sexton, “But I’m sure that won’t curb the influx of cash to her, because for those California liberals donating to her, it has more to do with just not wanting to do anything, so giving money is the easiest way to buy yourself on to the right side of history (in their minds),” said Sexton.
Bencomo Suárez also expresses frustration with the amount of money being collected for McGrath in the wake of Ginsburg’s death.
“I think it’s peak liberalism to be giving money to McGrath. Electoral politics doesn’t get the goods, organizing does. In the middle of a global pandemic with mass unemployment and [an] uprising with international implications, the last thing people should [be] giving their dollars to is a white woman who already has millions of dollars for her campaign,” said Bencomo Suárez.