Amy McGrath’s travails bring to mind a saying of Fred Barnes’s. If you were a Republican who lost in the wave year of 1994, Barnes once wrote, you’re a political no-hoper. The wind was at your back, and you fell flat on your face. I first came across his quip in an article on Ellen Sauerbrey, the Maryland Republican who lost a gubernatorial bid during the Republican Revolution and again in 1998. But the rule applies to other candidates who lost in 1994. And it might apply to Democrats too.
The difference is the year. For Republicans, the time to run was 1994. For Democrats, it was 2018. The party had its best performance in the House since 1974. But not everyone made it. McGrath lost to incumbent Andy Barr by 10,000 votes. Now she’s challenging Mitch McConnell in what is sure to be one of the most high-profile Senate races of 2020.
McGrath hasn’t improved her campaign skills. Her first day as a candidate was spent dealing with the fallout from a flip-flop over Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Last year McGrath was critical of his nomination to the Supreme Court. But in an interview with the Courier-Journal on Wednesday, she said she would have voted to confirm Kavanaugh. Within hours, she backtracked.
McGrath’s unforced error was a reminder that candidate performance matters. It mattered in 2018 when McGrath, Beto O’Rourke, and MJ Hegar failed to unseat Barr, Ted Cruz, and Representative John Carter. And it will matter it 2020 as McGrath struggles, Beto goes bust, and Hegar faces an steep climb in her bid to unseat John Cornyn.