Kentucky Senate race: Sen. McConnell projected to fend off challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is projected to fend off a Democratic challenge from former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, who despite her underdog status raised millions for her campaign.

McConnell was up by more than 300,000 votes with 81% reporting as of around 9 p.m.

Delivering a victory speech Tuesday night, McConnell said he was “humbled and grateful” to voters who chose to send him back to Washington.

“Tonight, Kentuckians said that challenging times need proven leadership,” he said. “And our nation will need Kentucky values and Kentucky ideas to defeat this virus and regain our footing.”

McConnell first won the seat more than three decades ago and more recently has been the driving force behind a Republican push to fill federal courts with conservative nominees under President Trump.

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The race was considered a “likely Republican” win by a number of election forecasters, including the Fox News Power Rankings and the Cook Political Report.

In his victory speech, McConnell said he would continue to act as a voice for Middle America.

“I’m the only one of the four congressional leaders not from New York or California,” McConnell noted, likely referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters after casting his vote in the 2020 general election at the Kentucky Exhibition Center in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

McGrath's campaign had a strong fundraising effort, outraising the Senate majority leader $88 million to $55 million.

“My opponent ran a spirited race,” McConnell said. “She stood up for her views and won a lot of votes. I applaud her willingness to step forward.”

McGrath is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who served as a combat pilot and weapons systems officer in a career that included deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. She previously ran for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District seat in 2018, losing to Rep. Andy Barr by about 10,000 votes.

On the campaign trail, she’s attacked McConnell over Washington’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and she accused him of building “the swamp” that President Trump often pledged to drain.

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Amy McGrath speaks to supporters during a rally in Danville, Ky., Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

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She also called for a ban on limitless special-interest and lobbyist donations to political campaigns that “directly undermine the wants and needs of ordinary, hard-working citizens.”

McConnell drew increasing ire from the left after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died mid-September.

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He led the Senate’s Supreme Court confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, just days before Election Day. Years earlier, he declined to hold a vote when then-President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia – eight months before the election in 2016.

“It’s not complicated,” McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt Friday. “The Constitution provides us as sort of co-partners with the president in filling vacancies. And it’s not surprising when you have a Senate of the same party as the president – there’s a lot more willingness to move and to move quickly. And that’s what we did with regard to the [Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg vacancy.”

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He added that the amount of time Barrett’s confirmation process took was “well within the norm if you look back over the course of American history.”

McConnell last week predicted a “50-50” chance that the GOP would retain control of the Senate after Election Day, with 23 Republicans up for reelection and only 12 Democrats defending their seats this time around.

“We have a lot of exposure,” McConnell said during a campaign stop last week. “This is a huge Republican class. There are dogfights all over the country."

The GOP currently holds 53 of the 100 seats in the Senate. Should the outcome result in an even 50 seats between the GOP and the Democrats, whichever ticket wins the White House will control the vice president’s tie-breaking vote.

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But speaking Tuesday night, McConnell also struck a conciliatory tone, noting that the coronavirus pandemic was just one of the threats that Americans will still be facing after Election Day.

“Our country is gonna get back on our feet," he said. "Our nation has real challenges and real adversaries. But our fellow citizens are not our enemies. There is no challenge we cannot overcome together.”

Fox News’ Megan Henney contributed to this report.

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