By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press via Kentucky Today
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Flush with a late burst of campaign cash in her bid to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Democrat Amy McGrath is using some of her money to amplify an awkward moment for the powerful majority leader from their exchange about the coronavirus in their televised debate.
McGrath, fresh off her best quarterly fundraising haul, unveiled a TV ad Friday that replayed a scene of McConnell laughing as she attacked his role in the federal response to the pandemic.
The exchange from Monday night's debate made the rounds of social media all week, striking a nerve as the nation continues to struggle with the ongoing health crisis. Kentucky has been hit by another surge of COVID-19 cases, with 20 virus-related deaths reported Thursday alone.
The ad shows McGrath saying the Democratic-led House passed follow-up aid in May and claiming the Senate "went on vacation" when it should have delivered more relief to hard-hit Kentuckians. That elicited laughter from McConnell, the highlight of McGrath's ad.
The vacation reference has been a frequent attack from McGrath in her uphill challenge against McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term.
"You just don't do that," McGrath said during the debate — comments replayed in her commercial. "You negotiate. Senator, it is a national crisis."
Not shown in the Democrat's ad is McConnell's response. He replied that "nobody went on vacation." When the Senate wasn't in session, he said, "we actually can do things like use telephones. We communicate with each other a lot."
McConnell blamed congressional Democrats for the lack of a follow-up relief bill.
"If I'm a viewer watching this debate, I'm saying 'why can't you guys get together?'" McConnell said. "And I think the answer is the proximity to the election has slowed the process. And that's unfortunate for the country. It's unacceptable."
The country needs results, not finger pointing, McGrath said. In debate comments replayed in her ad, the retired Marine pilot says: "If you want to call yourself a leader, you've got to get things done. And those of us that served in the Marines, we don't just point fingers at the other side. We get the job done."
McGrath's new ad came a day after her campaign finance report showed she brought in $36.8 million in the July-through-September period, sustaining her fundraising advantage. McConnell's campaign previously reported raising $15.6 million for the period.
Both campaigns are bombarding the state with attack ads. McConnell has a new ad attacking McGrath's abortion-rights stance. Abortion is a potent issue in conservative-leaning Kentucky.
The attacks fly as each side has banked hefty amounts for the campaign's stretch run. McGrath had nearly $20 million on hand at the end of September, while McConnell had $13.8 million.
McGrath's campaign says her fundraising haul reflects McConnell's unpopularity. McConnell has attributed his opponent's fundraising to his status as the country's second-most prominent Republican, behind President Donald Trump, making him a prime target for Democrats nationally.
"Every lefty in the country would love to see me lose," McConnell said at a summer event.
McGrath has labored to distance herself from the liberal wing of her party, a formidable challenge in a state where the Republican brand remains strong — especially with frequent reminders from McConnell.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus crisis looms as a defining issue in the Kentucky race.
McGrath condemns the federal response as inadequate while McConnell highlights his lead role in crafting the more than $2 trillion economic rescue package passed early in the response to the pandemic. McConnell has crisscrossed Kentucky for months to promote the measure's efforts to shore up small businesses and hospitals.
"That legislation was passed back in March, and here we are this coronavirus is still happening," McGrath said during the debate while touting the House measure passed in May.
McConnell also laughed off her mention of that Democratic measure, saying it shows McGrath's alliance with her party's liberal leaders in Congress.
"What she wanted us to pass was the bill that provided health care for illegals, tax cuts for rich people in New York and California and had more money it in for Puerto Rico than for Kentucky," McConnell said.
McConnell offered a trimmed-down relief package last month that included school aid, new money for vaccines and testing, and another round of the Paycheck Protection Program for smaller businesses. Senate Democrats blocked the measure, saying it shortchanged too many pressing needs.
A day after his debate with McGrath, McConnell scheduled a procedural vote next week in the Senate on a Republican COVID-19 relief bill.
McGrath responded by tweeting: "If I got this done with the first debate, wonder what I could do with a second?" This week's debate could be the only one between the two candidates before the Nov. 3 election. Kentuckians are already voting — by absentee balloting and early in-person voting.