Amy McGrath, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and combat pilot who is seeking to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2020, raised $2.5 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign, her campaign manager said Wednesday.
The fundraising haul eclipsed the first-day totals raised by some heavyweight contenders in the presidential race, including Sens Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. It suggests that McGrath retains some of the star power she harnessed during her failed bid last year to capture a House seat in Kentucky.
It is also an indication of just how badly Democrats want to oust McConnell, the Senate majority leader.
In a brief telephone interview on Wednesday morning, Mark Nickolas, McGrath’s campaign manager, said the $2.5 million she raised was the most ever in the first 24 hours of a Senate campaign. The donations came from roughly 69,000 donors who contributed an average of about $36 each, he said.
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee confirmed that McGrath’s first-day total was believed to be a record. Former astronaut Mark Kelly raised $1 million during the first day of his Senate campaign in Arizona earlier this year.
McConnell’s fundraising prowess is also formidable. In his 2014 reelection campaign, he spent more than $30 million and won by more than 15 percentage points. McConnell’s team has already raised $11.2 million this cycle and currently has $7.9 million on hand, the campaign said Wednesday.
“It looks like it’ll be a long campaign,” Nickolas said.
McGrath, 44, announced Tuesday that she would challenge McConnell, 77, and released a scathing video in which she placed the blame for dysfunction in Washington squarely on his shoulders.
“Everything that’s wrong in Washington had to start someplace,” McGrath said in the video. “It started with this man who was elected a lifetime ago, and who has, bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise.”
Democrats have been frustrated by their failures to recruit some top-level targets for Senate races. They include Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor in Georgia last year but who said this year she would not run for Senate in 2020. Other potential candidates have chosen to run for president instead, including Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and the former housing secretary Julián Castro, both of Texas; and former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado.
But McGrath is one of several Democrats to mount a high-profile challenge to a sitting Republican senator.
Sara Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, said last month that she would challenge Sen. Susan Collins. Jaime Harrison, the first black chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, has declared his candidacy for the Senate seat held by Lindsey Graham. And Kelly, the former astronaut and gun-control activist who is married to Gabrielle Giffords, said in February that he would take on Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona.
Gideon has said she raised more than $1 million during the first week of her campaign. Harrison said his campaign raised $1.5 million during the second quarter of 2019.
Since the 2016 election, certain high-profile congressional races have energized Democratic donors seeking to pick up seats wherever possible. Many have given generously, helping Democrats recapture the House in 2018.
But for the candidates, raising millions of dollars hardly guarantees victory.
As a candidate for the Senate last year, O’Rourke raised more than $80 million as he sought to topple Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. And the year before, Jon Ossoff, a Democrat running in a closely watched special House election in Georgia, raised more than $23 million in what became the most expensive House race in history.
Despite those sizable war chests, O’Rourke lost to Cruz, and Ossoff was defeated by Karen Handel, a Republican.