As to the first lesson, predictions leading up to and on election night that McGrath — who had been heavily favored and then thrown into a highly competitive primary against the progressive Booker (fueled in party by the racial tumult echoing around the country) — would lose were wrong. She wound up winning by a small but distinct margin.
It cannot be stressed enough that responsible news outlets should not be selecting the “winner” on election night, when returns take a week or more to come in. The Kentucky experience, where the final vote tally was not obtained for a week because of massive voting by mail, is a preview of the races in November. If the media disregard the admonition to exercise restraint, candidates who are ahead on Nov. 3 but wind up losing will be tempted to cry “Rigged!” In short, they risk delegitimizing winners. Networks and major newspapers would do well to pledge to avoid undermining democratic elections by prematurely calling races.
Second, Kentucky Democrats voted with their heads, not their hearts. On paper, at least, a moderate military veteran has a much better shot at winning in a deep-red state than an electrifying member of the Bernie Sanders/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party. State Democrats chose someone who could not be painted as a wild-eyed socialist. (Booker “fully embraced a liberal agenda, including Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, while McGrath offered somewhat more moderate policy prescriptions.”) They chose someone who can make the Republicans’ ongoing efforts to eliminate health-care coverage for tens of millions (during a pandemic, no less) not Medicare-for-all the issue. They chose someone who can make the case that McConnell, in backing President Trump to the hilt, is enabling a threat to national security and putting troops at risk. One can only imagine the ads the ex-Marine Corps pilot will make about Trump’s inactivity on Russian bounties on U.S. troops, his willingness to sell-out an ally like Ukraine and his alleged attempt to enlist Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win reelection.
Any Democrat would face an uphill fight in a state Trump is likely to carry by double digits. However, with McGrath as their nominee, Democrats have at least a shot at bringing down McConnell, which will force Republicans to spend some resources on a race that would normally be a slam dunk.
With former vice president Joe Biden and Senate nominees such as McGrath, Democrats seem to have internalized the lessons of 2018 midterms: Run moderate, likable candidates (especially women) who will make Republicans and their fealty to Trump — not a phony “socialism vs. capitalism” fight — the issue in the race. As for Republicans, they seem bent on going down to defeat. In refusing to unlash themselves from a toxic incumbent president who, at this point, appears on his way to losing, they are setting themselves up for defeats up and down the ticket, even in red states.
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