HEAR THEM: McConnell, Barr win, congressional winners called; Changes should become law: Beshear

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the chief congressional ally to President Donald Trump, won a seventh term Tuesday in his hard-hitting, mega-spending race against Democrat Amy McGrath.

And analysts have projected Republican incumbent Andy Barr will win re-election over Democrat Josh Hicks.

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Hicks led early but Barr took the lead shortly after 8 p.m. as more of his strongholds reported. By 8:45 p.m., Barr led 55 percent to 43 percent. The AP called the race at about 9 p.m.

The Associated Press called the McConnell race at about 8 p.m. Eastern Time, when McConnell had 60 percent of the vote statewide and McGrath had about 36 percent. McConnell gave a brief acceptance speech at about 8:40 p.m.

He applauded McGrath for running a “a spirited race.”

And he struck a tone of unity, saying, “Our fellow citizens are not enemies” and “our country will get back on its feet.”

“This is no time to attack our Constitution like some outdated relic, no time to tear down statues of our founders. These are the times they’re made for… this is no time to declare war on our institutions because one side is angry that the framers made it hard to achieve radical change,” he said, making reference to racial justice protests throughout the summer.

“Tonight, Kentucky said we’re keeping our front row seat in the Senate,” he concluded.

The Republican Party of Kentucky offered congratulations.

“Tonight is a great night for Kentucky. From fighting for Kentucky jobs and businesses and remaking the federal judiciary, to enacting the largest rescue package in American history, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivers results for Kentuckians time and time again. We couldn’t be more proud to have helped him earn another term as a voice for our state in Washington,” Republican Party Chairman Mac Brown said.

McGrath thanked supporters and said she hopes they all have made a difference.

Republicans also congratulated Barr, as did Hicks in his concession.

“Congratulations to Congressman Andy Barr on his hard-earned victory. Congressman Barr is relentless in fighting for families and small business, and we’re proud to have helped him defeat the onslaught of Nancy Pelosi’s allies. The people of Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District made the right choice in granting Congressman Barr another term,” Brown said of Barr.

“Over the past year and a half, I have been privileged to be a part of a movement that was about so much more than just me, or just my ideas. This has been a campaign of, and by, and for regular folks, and I am humbled to have been a part of it. I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped us build this campaign. Whether you spent your free time making phone calls, or gave a few of your hard-earned dollars, your belief and energy sustained me. Tonight, I congratulate Congressman Barr on his victory in this election, and I thank the thousands of volunteers and supporters I’ve met across the Sixth District during our campaign,” Hicks said in conceding the race.

More than 1.5 million ballots were already cast in Kentucky during weeks of mail-in and early in-person voting because of the coronavirus pandemic, leading up to actual Election Day balloting with a record turnout forecast.

Topping the ballot is the presidential race between the Republican incumbent Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, while down-ballot contests include races for Congress and the legislature.

The 6th District lived up to its battleground reputation as Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr sought to fend off a challenge from Democrat Josh Hicks.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday afternoon the broad turnout across the state is evidence the changes put in place for the election to curb the spread of the coronavirus should become law.

“We should put all the the changes in the law…let’s not pick and choose based on party…let’s say everyone’s vote matters,” Beshear said of the changes, which included expanded absentee by-mail and drop-off voting, three weeks of no-excuse in-person voting, and other changes.

The Senate race dominated statewide airwaves as McConnell and McGrath offered stark contrasts.

McConnell, 78, the longest-serving U.S. senator in Kentucky history, said his leadership post enables him to deliver federal money and to craft policy benefiting the state. McGrath, 45, is a term-limits advocate who said McConnell has lost touch with constituents and has come to represent all that’s wrong with Washington.

Both Senate candidates poured tens of millions of campaign funds into a race that was influenced by the COVID-19 outbreak. The federal response to the public heath crisis became a flash point. McGrath faulted McConnell for the lack of another federal virus relief package in the weeks before the election. McConnell blamed Democrats and touted his role in passing a $2 trillion virus aid bill early in the pandemic that delivered more than $13 billion for Kentucky.

Barr faced a strong challenge from Hicks. Barr’s fellow Kentucky Republicans seeking reelection to Congress were Hal Rogers, James Comer, Brett Guthrie and Thomas Massie. The only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, John Yarmuth, also was seeking another term.

For decades, the 6th district stretching from the bluegrass region to the Appalachian foothills had swung between Republicans and Democrats, but lately it has stayed in GOP hands. Barr, who has been a target of national Democrats, has been a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump. Hicks is an attorney who previously served as a Marine and police officer. He’s a former Republican who says he switched parties because of GOP policies favoring the wealthy.

The 5th District candidates are incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and Democratic challenger Matthew Ryan Best. Rogers easily won another term.

The 4th District candidates are incumbent Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, who drew Trump’s ire on coronavirus relief, and Democratic challenger Alexandra Owensby. Massie won another term.

The 3rd District candidates include incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Republican challenger Rhonda Palazzo. Yarmuth won another term.

The 2nd District candidates include incumbent Republican U.S. Rep, Brett Guthrie and Democratic challenger Hank Linderman. Guthrie won another term.

The 1st District candidates include Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. James Comer and Democratic challenger James Rhodes. Comer won another term.

LEGISLATURE

Republicans appear poised to maintain overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly. Democrats are targeting suburban districts in hopes of whittling away at the GOP’s strength in rural districts. Republican Rep. Jason Nemes of Louisville is in a tough reelection fight and Democrats are hoping to pick up the Lexington seat of retiring GOP Rep. Stan Lee. A state Senate race in eastern Kentucky features candidates with the same last name. Democratic Sen. Johnny Ray Turner is being challenged by Republican Johnnie Turner.

SUPREME COURT

Kentucky lawmaker Chris Harris and Circuit Judge Robert Conley are vying to represent a Supreme Court district in eastern Kentucky. Harris, a Democrat, has represented Martin County and part of Pike County in the House since 2015. As an attorney he has argued cases in state and federal courtrooms across the state. Conley hears cases as a circuit judge in Greenup and Lewis counties. He was recently reprimanded by the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission, in part for throwing a man in jail for three days for contempt of court without conducting a hearing.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

One amendment known as Marsy’s law would add a series of crime victims’ rights to Kentucky’s Constitution. The measure was a reprise of a 2018 constitutional amendment that cleared the legislature and was approved by Kentucky voters, but was voided when the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the wording was too vague.

It’s worded differently this time, but would have similar effects. It would guarantee, among other things, that crime victims have the right to timely notification of court proceedings. Another amendment would lengthen the terms of district judges and state prosecutors.

It calls for district judges, who currently serve four-year terms, to start serving eight-year terms in 2022. It also would increase the time they have to be a licensed attorney before becoming a judge. In addition, the amendment would add two years to the term of a commonwealth’s attorney.