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The State of the Race in Kentucky

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Some words on the state of the race in Kentucky, because it continues to get some attention nationwide… Polling has been a bit all over the place over the last three weeks, but none of it is great. McGrath’s theory of victory, which is that she needs to capture a slice of Trump voters big enough to close the gap between her and McConnell, hasn’t precisely been debunked; in the Quinnipiac poll from September 14, she’s eight points closer to McConnell than Biden is to Trump. But Trump is 20 points ahead, and there’s only so much you can do with that kind of gap. More recent polling has her anywhere between 7 and 15 points down.

McGrath’s campaign has highlighted Trump-to-McGrath voters who are upset with Mitch for whatever reason, but who still plan on voting to re-elect the President. Such people apparently exist, and finding enough of them to make up the gap is the only way for McGrath to win. This outreach is necessarily frustrating for progressives, since the message that the T-to-M voters want to hear is the exact opposite of what progressives want.

It is nevertheless unfortunate that they Kentucky Senate Democratic primary got tangled up in the tail-end of the deeply unproductive progressive-centrist fight that characterized the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary. From my perspective, it has become deeply unpleasant to watch the Clintonization of McGrath on both the right and the left since 2018, when her candidacy for KY-6 captured genuine enthusiasm both in and out of the state. Since then, she has been lazily depicted as yet another Ambitious Woman who’s ruining things for progressives and who would ruin things for conservatives.

This article does a pretty good job of explaining the difference between this election and the 2019 race that Andy Beshear won. It’s difficult to express just how unpopular Matt Bevin was in this state; he had all of the political instincts of a tapeworm, and yet he still only lost by a few thousand votes, and on a ballot that he didn’t have the good fortune to share with Donald Trump. The outcome of that election, incidentally, is almost certainly greater than the distance between Tennessee (36 deaths per 100000) and Kentucky (27 per 100000) because Bevin was legitimately much worse even than Bill Lee.

All that said, I would hesitate before concluding that it’s over. McGrath is way behind, but we’re obviously in a deeply chaotic moment in American politics, and it’s not absurd that either a) Biden could narrow the gap with Trump in Kentucky, or b) the Kentucky GOP could suffer from a turnout problem because of demoralization. It’s not obvious how either of those would play out for the Senate race, but it’s a reason to keep paying attention.

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