LOUISVILLE, Ky. — All across the country, massive amounts of money is flowing into politics, but few races have seen the type of eye-popping fundraising totals as the one pitting Sen. Mitch McConnell against former fighter pilot Amy McGrath. With both of their third quarter fundraising totals now in, we take a look at the numbers, how they compare to other states and other years, and what it all means.
The third quarter, which covers the three months between July 1 and Sept. 30, marked the biggest fundraising period for both McConnell and McGrath. The senator brought in $15.7 million, which can only be considered paltry in relation to the record-breaking totals raised by other candidates this quarter. And McGrath is one of those candidates. She reported raising $36.9 million in the third quarter. That brings her total for the entire campaign over $84 million, nearly $30 million more than McConnelll’s $53.6 million.
Both candidates also reported sizable chunks of cash on hand, with McGrath sitting on $19.9 million and McConnell $13.9 million.
As McGrath more than doubled McConnell’s fundraising in the third quarter, she also vastly outspent him, dropping $33.1 million to McConnell’s $18.4 million.
Much of that money was, and continues to be pumped into advertising. Both candidates have unveiled new ads this week. McGrath is amplifying a moment that went viral after the candidates had their first, and likely only debate earlier last Monday. In the video, McConnell laughs as McGrath criticizes him for holding up approval of another stimulus package from Congress. McConnell meanwhile has a new ad tying McGrath’s position on abortion to Hillary Clinton’s.
Both candidates have also benefited from the largesse of outside groups, with The Ditch Fund running ads against McConnell and the Keep Kentucky Great PAC running ads against McGrath.
In a normal year, McGrath’s fundraising haul would have been close to an all-time record for a U.S. Senate candidate, falling just short of the $38 million quarter Beto O'Rouke had in his bid to defeat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. But 2020 is not normal, particularly when it comes to the ability of Democrats to rack up eye-popping fundraising total.
Arizona’s Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who is challenging Sen. Martha McSally, brought in $38.7 million, slightly more than McGrath. And Jaime Harrison of South Carolina, whose mounting a bid to unseat three-term U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, brought in a record total of $57 million.
The last U.S. Senate race in Kentucky was in 2016 when Rand Paul, fresh off his failed attempt to stop Donald Trump from getting to the White House, defeated former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray by 15 percent. Neither candidate brought in the kind of money McGrath and McConnell have, with Paul spending $11.1 million during the election and Gray spending just $6.4 million.
In 2014, McConnell defeated former Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and the race cost a combined $50 million, with Grimes dropping nearly $19 million on the race and McConnell spending $30.6 million.
One question that is not answered by candidate financial filings is whether either can use the money to actually win the election. The latest public polling doesn’t bode well for McGrath, though it’s been nearly a month since any polls on the race have been released. A Data for Progress poll in the field from Sept. 14 to 19 found McConnell with a seven percent edge over McGrath. That’s among the closest she’s come. A poll conducted from Sept. 11 to 20 had McConnell up 15.
Forecasters don't give McGrath much of a chance either. FiveThirtyEight's model gives McConnell a 96 percent chance of winning and Cook Political Report classifies the race as a "likely" win for McConnell.