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McGrath to try to capitalize on McConnell's unpopularity in Kentucky Senate race

Amy McGrath to run for Mitch McConnell's Senate seat

Democrat Amy McGrath's announcement Tuesday that she'll run for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's seat launched her into what may be the highest-profile race of the 2020 election outside the presidential race. She faces some formidable obstacles ahead, among them that Kentucky is hardly a Democratic state -- Republicans have complete control over state government, and President Trump won the state by 30 percentage points.

With this in mind, McGrath will be targeting voters in the deep red state not necessarily by running a traditional Democratic campaign, but by capitalizing on McConnell's unpopularity.

According to the survey research company Morning Consult, McConnell is the most unpopular senator in the country, with a net unfavorability rating of 50% in his home state. McConnell, who has been in office since 1985, is viewed by many in Kentucky to be a wholly political creature, a product of the "swamp" in Washington that Mr. Trump has promised to drain.

McGrath may try to peel away Kentucky voters who support Mr. Trump but are wary of McConnell. In her campaign launch video, McGrath blamed McConnell for effectively turning Washington into "a place where ideals go to die." 

"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. 

In an interview with the Courier Journal on Wednesday, McGrath said that she'd support the president when he has "good ideas." She also compared herself to Mr. Trump by pointing out that he was a political outsider before he was elected.

"He was somebody who promised to drain the swamp, who ran against the D.C. elite, who said the system is rigged and talked about things like infrastructure and bringing down prescription drug prices," McGrath said about Mr. Trump. In her interview, she even pointed out occasions when McConnell blocked Mr. Trump's initiatives.

"And who blocks him along the way? The man who has been very confident in saying, 'I'm the one who decides what gets voted on,' (who) never presents him with a bill to bring down drug prices," McGrath continued, referring to McConnell. "Who stops (Mr. Trump)? Sen. McConnell, and he never wants to do anything like that and for years has stopped movement, and why? Well, because he gets the most campaign cash, more than any other member of Congress, from Big Pharma."

However, McGrath did say that she would not vote for the president in 2020, and Mr. Trump has already voiced his support for McConnell.

McGrath narrowly lost a House race in Kentucky in 2018, leading some to wonder whether she can win statewide if she could not even win a House district. Unlike her 2018 opponent Rep. Andy Barr, McConnell is far better known -- and far more disliked in Kentucky.

McGrath's fundraising capabilities show that she could prove to be a credible opponent to McConnell, and win grassroots support.

In the first 24 hours after she announced her Senate bid Tuesday, McGrath raised a whopping $2.5 million, according to her campaign. The haul breaks multiple records, including the most money ever raised in a single day by a Senate campaign, McGrath's campaign said. It's also more than multiple presidential candidates raised in the first day of their campaigns. Still, McConnell holds a substantial financial advantage so far, having raised $11.2 million since 2015 -- including more than $3 million in the second quarter -- and he has nearly $8 million in cash on had. 

However, McGrath's nascent campaign has not been without missteps. She said in the interview with the Courier Journal Wednesday that she would have voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault by more than one woman, only to reverse course hours later.

"I think that with Judge Kavanaugh, yeah, I probably would have voted for him," McGrath told the Courier Journal.

However, after outrage from liberals who opposed the confirmation of the conservative justice, McGrath changed her answer.

McGrath tweeted hours later, "I was asked earlier today about Judge Brett Kavanaugh and I answered based upon his qualifications to be on the Supreme Court. But upon further reflection and further understanding of his record, I would have voted no."

Emily Tillett contributed to this report