U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign called on a potential Democratic opponent — former Marine Corps pilot Amy McGrath — to stop running political advertisements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Amy McGrath’s decision to blanket the airwaves with deceitful ads during the coronavirus outbreak is tasteless and shameful,” said McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden. “As Kentuckians adjust their daily lives and schedules to help stem the outbreak, the last thing they need to see on TV is negative political advertising. The McGrath campaign must stop airing all of their advertisements.”
McGrath has been running advertisements in Kentucky since July, when she first announced her campaign for U.S. Senate. Recently, she has been running national ads on MSNBC and Fox News in an effort to boost her already prolific fundraising totals.
“Amy is well aware of the stress the coronavirus pandemic is causing Kentuckians and our nation. The only person who doesn’t seem to understand that is Sen. McConnell,” said Terry Sebastian, a spokesman for McGrath. “He has a 35-year failed track record on issues like health care and jobs in Kentucky, and now — during a public health crisis — he took a long weekend instead of doing his job and working to pass a relief package immediately.”
The Kentucky primaries were slated for May 19, but Gov. Andy Beshear delayed the primary by 35 days to June 23.
University of Kentucky election law professor Josh Douglas has been in contact with Secretary of State Michael Adams and the State Board of Election about the issue of voting access amid the outbreak. He said he is pushing for Kentucky to allow no-excuse absentee balloting, which would allow everyone to vote by mail.
“I’m very concerned about the restrictive nature of Kentucky’s law in regards to who can vote by mail,” Douglas said.
In addition to president and other federal offices, Kentuckians are slated to elect new state lawmakers and several judges.
In the meantime, the U.S. Senate campaigns have already started shifting online. Lincoln County farmer and former Marine Mike Broihier moved all his campaign operations online this weekend and the campaign for Rep. Charles Booker, D-Louisville has gone fully remote and has stopped doing door-to-door campaigning.
Both Booker and Broihier were attempting to build momentum through the spring and into the primary, capitalizing on potential Democratic discontent with the well-funded McGrath.
“There certainly is no playbook for what you would normally do in a situation like this,” said Colin Lauderdale, Booker’s campaign manager.
With much smaller budgets and less infrastructure, the coronavirus presents an unprecedented challenge for the smaller campaigns on the ballot.
“Those candidates needed a swell of excitement on the ground,” said Republican strategist Tres Watson. “They needed people knocking door to door, they needed rallies.”
The crisis is, however, highlighting some of the campaign promises of the progressives. Both Broihier and Booker have called for a universal basic income and U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, came out in favor of giving every American adult $1,000 to help tide people over amid a massive country-wide shutdown.
There’s also great concern about the ability of the nation’s health care system to handle a tidal wave of COVID-19 patients.
“It’s a very clear example of why we need reforms so much to the health care system,” Lauderdale said.
McGrath this weekend criticized McConnell for returning to Louisville instead of working to pass an aid package to help Americans as much of the nation shut down due to the coronavirus. He was in Louisville attending a swearing-in ceremony for a federal judge.
“In the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic — where businesses are shuttering, schools are closing and our front-line workers are at risk — Sen. Mitch McConnell took off for a long weekend yesterday instead of working with his colleagues on legislation we urgently need to combat this public health crisis,” McGrath said in a news release.
McConnell issued a statement Sunday saying he was in discussions to address how to help Americans overcome financial challenges in the weeks and months ahead, how to stabilize the nation’s economy, and how to ready the health care system for an expected tidal wave of COVID-19 patients.
Watson, a Republican, said McGrath might want to think about saving some money by changing how she advertises during the outbreak, given that she won’t be able to hold fundraisers for a while.
“In past instances of great national trauma or empathy, candidates have pulled their advertising down,” Watson said, defending McConnell.
Matt Erwin, a Democratic strategist, criticized McConnell’s focus on McGrath’s ads, calling it tone deaf.
“Absolutely no one cares about this except for Mitch McConnell,” Erwin said. “People are terrified and unsure of what the next day, week and month will bring. Our economy is grinding to a halt and hospitals are anticipating a wave of sick Americans.”
The epidemic is also affecting how the Kentucky Democratic Party elects its county and state executive committees. The process, which was set to start March 21, was delayed until further notice.
This story was originally published March 16, 2020 2:10 PM.