Ronnie Ellis file photo.JPG

Ronnie Ellis, CNHI Kentucky

I was among the first reporters to interview Amy McGrath when she was considering running against Republican incumbent Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th District. She was meeting with a small group from Richmond, allowing me to sit in prior to our interview.

I was impressed with her candor. She didn’t prevaricate, dance or dodge, and while some of her positions didn’t sit well with this mostly liberal, college group, she was winning points with the group.

When asked why she was running, she mentioned Donald Trump’s election as president, comparing it to the feeling she experienced after 9/11. Now, in announcing she’ll oppose Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell next year, she’s painting herself as a Trump Democrat who agrees with the president on some issues and promises to work with Trump on such issues.

It’s sort of like political whiplash.

To be fair, McGrath said in debates last year that she would be willing to compromise on some things in order to pass legislation she supports. For instance, she said she could vote to fund a portion of Trump’s “stupid” border wall if he would support allowing the DACA kids to stay in the country. So, in some ways, her new position really isn’t new.

McGrath lost the race to Barr, a race I thought she was winning right up until the end. The turning point was Trump’s visit to Richmond for a rally with Barr. It looks as if McGrath and her team have come to the same conclusion.

Because in her announcement this past week that she will challenge U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell next year, McGrath —characterized by Barr and Republicans in 2018 as “too liberal for Kentucky” — now is embracing Trump. She’s also flip-flopped positions on confirming Supreme Court Justice Matt Kavanaugh.

She says Kentucky voted for Trump because he promised to drain the swamp in D.C. and McConnell of all people is blocking those efforts. McConnell has been called the chief obstructionist in Congress — not without merit. Democrats are still outraged over his blocking of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. (McConnell voted to confirm Anthony Kennedy in 1988, also a presidential election year, his justification for blocking Garland’s confirmation.)

According to the Morning Consult Poll, McConnell is the least popular of any senator in his state while Trump’s net favorable is a plus-16 points in Kentucky. I would expect Trump to hold at least one joint rally with McConnell next year even if Kentucky is already solidly in his column.

McConnell and Republicans surely plan to tie McConnell to Trump while trying to tie McGrath to more liberal and outspoken national Democrats. It’s an interesting strategy by McGrath, trying to insulate herself from such charges while distinguishing between McConnell from Trump. But many Democrats aren’t happy with it.

Maybe McGrath is on to something, but it seems she’s risking her reputation with many Democrats and even some Republicans that she’s a non-partisan straight-shooter.

Then again, some Democrats complained when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear told an audience he will fight Trump’s agenda if he’s elected governor. The Democrats don’t want to nationalize the race and fear Beshear might drive off Republicans tired of Bevin but still enamored of Trump.

It brings to mind an observation by President Harry Truman: “If you run a Republican against a Republican, the Republicans will win every time.”

Gov. Matt Bevin and McConnell certainly display different styles. I can’t imagine the dour McConnell putting out a “rap” as Bevin did this week, ripping Beshear. Bevin seized upon a letter from Virginia Democratic Senator and Hilly Clinton’s running mate in 2016 seeking support for Beshear.

I suppose I could quote a couple of lines for you, but it’s easier just to give you a link where you can watch the entire video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=gMuh8Q4HSfI.

This governor’s race is sure to be mean. It may be a little silly too.

Ronnie Ellis is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and writes a weekly column. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.