Betting on the Wrong Horse: How Donating to Amy McGrath Could Cost Democrats the Senate


Nikhil Polepalli

Following his sixth consecutive term as a Kentucky Senator, Mitch McConnell faces his toughest re-election bid yet. The 78-year-old Republican senator must defeat the Democratic nominee, Amy McGrath, in order to win his seventh term. 

Named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, McConnell served as the Senate Majority Whip from 2003-2007, Senate Minority Leader from 2007-2015, and currently serves as the Senate Majority Leader. Three of McConnell’s key policies include filling the Supreme Court vacancy, legalizing industrial hemp, and funding a coronavirus relief bill. 

His opponent, Amy McGrath won the Kentucky Democratic primary by a narrow 12,000 votes over the more progressive Charles Booker. With 20 years of marine experience, McGrath has dedicated her life to protecting our country and is now seeking to stimulate change through policy. McGrath is running as a pro-Trump Democrat who is pro-choice, pro-gun control, and pro-climate reform. 

While McConnell’s name, recognition, and 50+ years in politics might suggest that he would have a strategic advantage over McGrath when it comes to fundraising, the opposite is true. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that McGrath has raised $47 million (and counting), while McConnell has only raised $37 million. 

But there’s a catch. The Center for Responsive Politics explains that more than 95% of McGrath’s money has come from donors outside of Kentucky. The same is true for McConnell, with 90% of his donations coming from out-of-state donors. 

Unfortunately for McGrath, these donations may actually be hurting her campaign as they force her to conform to the traditional Democratic beliefs of blue states like California. In a solid red-state like Kentucky, it is in her best interest to appeal to Republican voters. She can’t do that when her funding comes from solid blue-states. 

One key example of out-of-state funding hurting McGrath’s campaign occurred when she voiced her support for Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the supreme court. A day after voicing her support, she was pressured to withdraw her approval. 

At the very beginning of the race when the polls showed McConnell with a slight edge over McGrath, preventing these types of reversals could have been vital for the McGrath campaign. Unfortunately for McGrath, a FiveThirtyEight projection claimed McGrath to have only a four percent chance to win the election. 

Despite this slim chance of winning, McGrath received a wave of donations following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. These donations likely flooded in as people grew desperate to ensure that Ginsburg’s vacancy wasn’t filled by the Trump administration. 

However, the main goal of the Democrats should not be to simply #ditchmitch and replace the majority leader. The goal should be to regain control of the Senate by ensuring that as many Democratic candidates are elected as possible. Doing this would give the Democrats a majority in the Senate and demote McConnell to minority leader. 

The easiest path to attaining that goal is donating to other Democratic candidates facing a tough Senate election/re-election bid. However, with three more weeks until election day, the effectiveness of any additional donations would be questionable. 

Following the death of Justice Ginsburg, the Democratic Party should have prioritized donating to other Senate races instead of throwing money at McGrath in hopes that she could somehow dethrone the majority leader. 

Close races that could contribute to giving Democrats control of the senate include: Republican incumbent Martha McSally vs. Democratic challenger Mark Kelly in Arizona; Republican incumbent Cory Gardner vs. Democratic challenger John Hickenlooper in Colorado; Republican incumbent Susan Collins vs. Democratic challenger Sara Gideon in Maine; and Republican incumbent Thomo Tillis vs. Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham in North Carolina. Donating to virtually any of the above races would have been more meaningful than throwing money at McGrath.

While funneling money to McGrath may have been a smart move at the beginning of the race, the continued donations following her narrow margin of victory in the primary were simply irrational. In order to stimulate the most change, this money should have been donated to other close Senate races that could have contributed to a majority Senate shift to the Democrats.