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Yarmuth says effort to unseat McConnell could be national marquee battle next year

Kentucky Democrat says challengers face long odds against Senate GOP leader, however

Retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath is one of Rep. John Yarmuth’s top picks to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell next year. (Jason Davis/Getty Images file photo)

Kentucky Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth said Friday his two top picks to challenge Mitch McConnell in 2020 are Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot whose unsuccessful House race last year caught national attention, and sports radio talk show host Matt Jones.

Yarmuth admitted, however, that either candidate would face long odds in the Bluegrass State.

“I think Amy’s probably the first target of the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee]. They’ve talked to her. I’ve talked to her. She is totally dedicated to public service and if she runs, it’ll be the Beto O’Rourke-Ted Cruz race of 2020 because the nation will be closely focused on that,” he said during a C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview.

Yarmuth said McConnell, the Senate majority leader who was first elected to the chamber in 1984, is “very, very unpopular throughout Kentucky,” but President Donald Trump, who will be at the top of the ticket next year, “is very, very popular.”

“If the race were in 2022 or in 2018, I would say there was a much better chance,” the congressman said. “One of the questions will be how much the top of the ticket will affect that Senate race.”

“The way I look at it, there will be no presidential campaign in Kentucky next year. There hasn’t been in years, and I don’t anticipate there will be next year. But there will be $50, $60, $70 million spent on the Senate race, so I would think that most Kentuckians will be focused more on the Senate race than the presidential and that would give Amy a chance,” Yarmuth said.

In her first bid for office last cycle, McGrath spent $8.5 million trying to unseat 6th District Rep. Andy Barr. Her campaign ads, some of which showed her standing on a runway near a fighter jet describing Barr as “Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked congressman,” went viral and raised contributions from around the country. But McGrath ended up losing by 3 points.

Jones, who owns Kentucky Sports Radio in Lexington, has also expressed interest in challenging McConnell, but said last month that national Democrats were solidly behind McGrath. 

McConnell, who would be seeking his seventh term, had $5.6 million in his campaign account on March 31. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.

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