Kentucky Politics

Mitch McConnell and Amy McGrath squared off in the only debate of Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race on Monday night, arguing over the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic and partisan politics.

McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot, blamed McConnell for not passing a new coronavirus relief bill after the Democratic-led House advanced one in late May, calling McConnell’s behavior an “absolute dereliction of duty.”

“Instead of doing that, he is trying to ram through a Supreme Court nominee right now, instead of negotiating, which is what he should’ve been doing all summer long,” McGrath said.

McConnell touted his role in helping advance the first coronavirus relief packages that passed out of Congress in March.

But after passing those bills, McConnell announced he wanted to “hit the pause button” on new relief measures. He eventually unveiled a new package in late July, which didn’t get enough support to pass out of the Republican-led Senate.

He accused Democrats of not being willing to compromise on a new bill.

“If I’m a viewer watching this debate, I’m saying why can’t you guys get together. And I think the answer is, the proximity to the election has slowed the process. And that’s unfortunate for the country. It’s unacceptable. But she wants to pass all the blame on the Senate,” McConnell said.

First elected in 1984, McConnell is the majority leader of the Republican-led Senate, in charge of setting the chamber’s agenda. McGrath spent 20 years in the military and hasn’t held elected office before. She previously lost a race for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district.

McConnell tried to tie McGrath to national Democratic figures, accusing her of being too liberal for Kentucky saying she wants to add justices to the Supreme Court and admit new states to the union.

“In short, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between my opponent and all the national Democrats you’ve watched. If you give them control of the government, that’s what they’ll do,” McConnell said.

McGrath said she wasn’t interested in adding Supreme Court justices.

“We should be working on unpacking the senate right now. Because he has polarized and made this partisan mess of the Supreme Court so bad that people were even saying they were going to vote for or against the nominee before they even had the name,” McGrath said.

McConnell closed by saying Kentucky would be losing a powerful voice in the Senate if he loses reelection.

“The question is who can be effective for Kentucky. There are four congressional leaders. I’m the only one not from New York or California. I allow Kentucky to punch above its weight,” McConnell said.

McGrath accused McConnell of not being able to wrangle a dysfunctional, partisan Senate.

“Even in the middle of a national crisis, he can’t get things done for Kentucky. You want more of that? I don’t.

Kentuckians have already begun casting ballots by mail and in-person voting will be available across the state from October 13 until Election Day, November 3.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.