Politics

The host of a popular Kentucky sports talk show announced Thursday that he’s taking a step toward running as a Democrat for the seat of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by forming an exploratory committee.

Matt Jones said on his radio show that his decision on whether to enter the 2020 campaign will come after this year’s statewide election in November.

If he gets in, he would face a tough primary next spring that includes ex-Marine combat aviator Amy McGrath — who narrowly lost a high-profile race for the U.S. House in 2018 and is already running TV ads promoting her Senate campaign. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will face a daunting race against McConnell, the most powerful congressional Republican and the kingpin of Kentucky politics.

“For me to run is going to be quite an uphill slog,” Jones said. “You’ve got to run against Mitch McConnell — ‘Darth Vader’ — the second most powerful person in America. And before that, I’m going to have to beat the Democratic establishment, who’ve all gotten behind Amy McGrath.”

McConnell is seeking a seventh term in 2020. The longtime Republican lawmaker has aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump, who easily carried Kentucky in 2016 and remains popular in the Bluegrass State.

Jones said he expects to file paperwork in the coming days to form the exploratory committee. Doing so will allow him to raise money that can be used for polling and other expenses while determining whether to become a candidate.

He said he’ll keep doing his radio show while considering whether to enter the Senate campaign. But he said his bosses told him not to use the show to promote his exploratory committee, which he called “totally reasonable.”

Jones has made a name for himself as an outspoken supporter of University of Kentucky athletics in a state with legions of UK fans — especially for the school’s storied men’s basketball program. Jones also has used his radio show as a platform to espouse his political views and makes McConnell a frequent target of his barbs.

Jones was pulled as host of a TV show recently after he announced that he was writing a book about McConnell.

Jones said he’s planning to travel across Kentucky in the next seven weeks as he ponders becoming a candidate, saying: “I think I’ll have a better sense of if that is a doable thing after these seven weeks.”

“If I’m going to determine whether or not I should run, I should do it by going out in the state,” Jones said. “I think too often candidates sit there and think, ‘You know what, I’d be really good at this,’ and then make the decision.”

Besides McGrath, other Democrats in the Senate race include political newcomer Mike Broihier — who has a broad resume as a Marine officer, farmer and small-town newspaperman — as well as Steven Cox and Bennie Smith.

Another prominent Democrat considering a Senate run is Rocky Adkins, the top-ranking Democrat in the GOP-led Kentucky House, who finished second in this year’s Democratic primary for governor.

Adkins said recently that he doesn’t plan to announce his decision until after the November election, saying he wants to focus on this year’s races — headlined by a hard-fought campaign for governor between Republican incumbent Matt Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear. Jones said Thursday that if he got into the race immediately, it would distract from the governor’s race.

This story has been updated.