WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Democrats described Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the Grim Reaper last year for blocking the roughly 400 bills passed in the House, it was a characterization he proudly embraced.
Year after year, McConnell consistently polls as unpopular nationally, according to Morning Consult, but it hasn't disrupted his ability to routinely get reelected in Kentucky.
According to an exclusive Spectrum News/IPSOS Poll, only 39% of Kentuckians approve of how Sen. McConnell is handling his job as Senate majority leader, but he remains significantly favored in his matchup with Democratic challenger Amy McGrath.
"I think ultimately people understand that he gets the job done," said Allison Ball, Kentucky's State Treasurer.
Ball, a Republican and eastern Kentucky native, touts McConnell's support of the coal industry and attention to the opioid crisis as reasons she believes he enjoys support in that region. In this election, McConnell will undoubtedly be buttressed by President Trump who won Kentucky by 30 percentage points in 2016. McConnell has mostly avoided criticizing the president.
"One of the things that’s been really interesting about Leader McConnell that I’ve observed for a long time is that he understands people very well. He’s not necessarily somebody with a flamboyant personality. He’s not someone you necessarily think of as the life of the party but he understands how to work with people," said Ball.
McGrath has worked to characterize McConnell, who's been in the Senate for more than 30 years, as principally concerned with money and power.
But an October Mason-Dixon poll puts the former fighter pilot behind by about nine points.
In December, McConnell took credit for more than a billion dollars worth of federal spending and tax breaks for Kentucky.
The state also received more than a billion dollars in coronavirus relief funding earlier this year.
But the Commonwealth still remains among the poorest in the nation.
"He’s very successful at making the reelection about the other person. It’s possible to win reelection even if your approval rating is below 50 if you make the election more about the other person than about yourself, and he has successfully done that and tied himself to Trump who is more popular than he is," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky.
Cross says expect McConnell to continue to play up the confirmation of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in the final days of the 2020 election.
"He has a great deal of respect, and in some cases, fear, and that helps him a lot. But approval ratings are often driven by emotions, and McConnell is also not a very emotional politician. He is one of the least emotional politicians that I know so he doesn’t inspire a lot of emotion, at least positive emotion," said Cross.
McGrath has significantly outraised McConnell, bringing in about $88 million compared to McConnell’s roughly $55 million.