2020 Election

Dems Boost Libertarian in Kentucky in Hail Mary to Defeat McConnell

Dem donors are Libertarian candidate's biggest backers

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A liberal PAC is spending more than $1 million to bolster Kentucky's Libertarian Party nominee in a last-ditch attempt to funnel votes away from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.).

Ditch Mitch Fund, an anti-McConnell PAC founded by national liberal operatives, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from far-left donors to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), campaign-finance disclosures show. The money has helped the group spend more than $10 million on ads slamming McConnell and championing Democratic nominee Amy McGrath. But in the closing days of the campaign, Ditch Mitch Fund is instead spending big to sing the praises of Libertarian candidate Brad Barron.

The move is part of a larger liberal strategy to peel votes away from red-state Republicans by putting substantial funds behind little-known third-party candidates. One anti-McConnell super PAC—Fire Mitch Save America—has spent more than $250,000 on pro-Barron mailers in October. In South Carolina, Democratic Senate nominee Jaime Harrison, the state's Democratic Party, and an outside group aligned with Harrison have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on campaign materials that call Constitution Party candidate Bill Bledsoe "the only true conservative on the ballot."

Federal Election Commission filings show that Ditch Mitch Fund launched an affiliate PAC called True Kentucky Patriots on October 13. Just days later, the group pushed back on reports that it was pulling its TV ads in the race's final two weeks, instead saying it was "simply adjusting and moving around" the ad buys. True Kentucky Patriots went on to report more than $300,000 spent on TV, radio, and digital spots that call Barron "Kentucky's true conservative for U.S. Senate." According to ad-buying tracker Advertising Analytics, the total ad blitz is worth more than $1 million.

"Brad Barron is a farmer and businessman who will protect our liberties from Washington politicians," one True Kentucky Patriots TV ad states. "Sorry, Mitch, 36 years is too long. Vote your values and for freedom. Vote for conservative libertarian Brad Barron."

The ad campaign dwarfs Barron's own spending in the race. The third-party candidate has disbursed less than $17,000 as of June 30 and has failed to file the last two required FEC reports.

McGrath has personally boosted Barron throughout her bid to unseat McConnell. The Democrat in August invited Barron to join three proposed debates against McConnell "so Kentuckians can hear from all of the candidates on the ballot." She later retreated from an attempt to reject any debate invitations that excluded Barron, facing McConnell one-on-one in October.

McGrath's campaign, which has denounced "excessive money in politics," also encouraged donors to contribute to Fire Mitch Save America in January.

"I think the signal is for people who are interested in contributing beyond the legal limit, they should have confidence to contribute to the super PAC," then-campaign manager Mark Nickolas told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "We've got to fight fire with fire."

Ditch Mitch Fund has close ties to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), having raised more than $24,000 from Schumer's Senate Majority PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. True Kentucky Patriots has paid Washington, D.C.-based advertising firm Beacon Media thousands for its ads boosting Barron—the firm has also received more than $25,000 from the Nancy Pelosi-affiliated House Majority PAC since 2018.

Neither Barron nor Ditch Mitch Fund responded to requests for comment.