Is Amy McGrath the New Beto O’Rourke?

Democratic congressional candidate Amy McGrath supporters at an election-night party in Richmond, Ky., November 6, 2018. (John Sommers II/Reuters)

Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot and failed 2018 House candidate, announced her bid this week to unseat Mitch McConnell in 2020. Within 24 hours, she posted an eye-popping fundraising haul of $2.5 million. The enthusiasm behind a long-shot Democratic candidate in a deep-red state naturally invites comparison between McGrath and Beto O’Rourke, whose 2018 Texas Senate campaign served as a black hole for Democratic campaign cash.

But there are two reasons it’s hard to see McGrath sustaining this initial burst of enthusiasm the way O’Rourke did. Beto ran in 2018 as a bold progressive and anti-Trump Democrat: He said he supported single-payer health care and wanted to impeach Trump, while Democrats running in red or purple states did not.

McGrath, on the other hand, is trying to run as a pro-Trump Democrat, the Louisville Courier Journal reports:

“If you think about why Kentuckians voted for Trump, they wanted to drain the swamp, and Trump said that he was going to do that,” McGrath said during the announcement of her candidacy on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “Trump promised to bring back jobs. He promised to lower drug prices for so many Kentuckians. And that is very important.” . . . 

“And you know what? Who stops them along the way? Who stops the president from doing these things? Mitch McConnell,” she continued on MSNBC. “And I think that that’s very important, and that’s going to be my message — the things that Kentuckians voted for Trump for are not being done. He’s not able to get it done because of Senator McConnell.”

McGrath told the Courier Journal on Wednesday that she opposes Medicare for All, supports existing state limits on late-term abortion, and “probably” would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. “There was nothing in his record that I think would disqualify him in any way,” she said of Kavanaugh. (On Wednesday night, she flip-flopped on Kavanaugh: “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.”)

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This is an awkward attempt by McGrath — who had previously expressed opposition to any restrictions on abortion, likened her feelings about Trump’s election to 9/11, and called herself the most progressive person in Kentucky — to reinvent herself.

Democrats might look past McGrath’s inauthentic moderation if polling showed they had a real chance to take out McConnell. The other factor driving Democratic enthusiasm in Texas in 2018, after all, was the polling that showed a tight race between O’Rourke and one of the Republicans that Democrats hate the most. (The race did indeed end up being close: Cruz won by only 2.6 points.)

But Trump won Kentucky by 30 points in 2016; he carried Texas by only 9 points. It’s unlikely pollsters will serve up surveys showing McGrath has a good chance to take out the congressional Republican they despise the most in 2020.

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