Kentucky U.S. Senate Democratic primary pits establishment pick Amy McGrath against surging Charles Booker
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Democrats in Kentucky will decide a surprisingly competitive U.S. Senate primary with upset potential Tuesday, while Republicans in Western North Carolina will decide who will be their nominee to replace Mark Meadows, who left Congress to become President Donald Trump’s White House chief-of-staff.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, Democrats in the 5th U.S. House District will pick their candidate in a race that became more of a pickup opportunity when incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman went down to defeat in a party convention earlier this month, while Republicans in the 2nd District will select a nominee to face freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria in the fall from a field that includes the man Luria beat in 2018, Scott Taylor.
Virginia Republicans will also decide who gets the decidedly uphill task of opposing Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner in November.
Polls in Kentucky are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in both Eastern and Central time zones; in North Carolina from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m; and in Virginia from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Kentucky: The marquee race in the Bluegrass is a Democratic U.S Senate battle between former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath from Georgetown and State Rep. Charles Booker from Louisville, whose campaign caught fire in the closing weeks, setting the stage for what could become one of the biggest upsets of the 2020 political season. Eight other Democrats are also in the race.
The winner will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who faces seven little-known challengers in the GOP primary.
McGrath, who lost a close U.S. House race in central Kentucky in 2018, has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, plus endorsements from seven former presidential candidates, including Pete Buttigieg. She has raised more than $40 million and spent $20 million in the primary, much of it on ads that focused on McConnell, rather than her primary opponents.
But Booker — who has criticized McGrath as a “pro-Trump Democrat” unable to motivate the Democratic grassroots — has the backing of U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker; two members of “The Squad” in the U.S. House, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; a number of activist groups on the Democratic left; and the state’s two largest newspapers, the Louisville Courier-Journal, which called him a “change agent”, and the Lexington Herald-Leader, which urged voters to choose “passion over pragmatism.”
Closer to home, Booker received the endorsements of former Secretary State Allison Lundergan Grimes, who lost to McConnell in 2018, and former Attorney General Greg Stumbo. However, the state’s two most prominent elected Democrats — Governor Andy Beshear and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth — have not endorsed either candidate, although Yarmuth’s son, who owns a newspaper in Louisville, is backing Booker.
One factor in the race will be the effect of protests over police violence that have roiled Louisville, home to the state’s largest pool of Democratic voters, in the wake of the death of Breonna Taylor, an African-American woman who was mistakenly shot in her home by police executing a no-knock warrant.
In the race’s closing days, Booker has gone up with ads criticizing McGrath for not participating in the protests, which included a awkward clip from a recent debate in which McGrath said she wasn’t involved because she “had some family things going on.” By contrast, Booker is shown addressing the protest crowd will a bullhorn.
The McGrath campaign has responded with ads that, while not attacking Booker directly, tout her as the only Democrat who can possibly beat McConnell, a formidable campaigner who has been in the Senate since 1985 and is seeking his seventh term.
Kentucky does not have primary runoff, which means that the candidate with the most votes Tuesday will be the nominee.
North Carolina: In the 11th U.S. House District, which takes in 17 mostly rural counties in the state’s western panhandle, Republicans will choose between Lynda Bennett, a Maggie Valley real estate agent and chair of the Haywood County Republican Party, and Madison Cawthorn, a 24-year-old real estate investor and motivational speaker from Hendersonville whose campaign has featured his life story as the survivor of a near-fatal car crash that left him in a wheelchair.
In December, Meadows announced he would not seek re-election just 30 hours before the filing deadline closed, and Bennett, a friend of Meadows and his wife, Debbie, jumped into the race. The chain of events rankled some Republicans in the district, who accused Meadows of trying to engineer Bennett’s election as his successor; both Meadows and Bennett have denied any coordination, although Meadows later endorsed her.
Meadows was later picked by Trump to head his White House staff, and Trump endorsed Bennett in early June.
In the first round of voting in March, Bennett received 24% of the vote to Cawthorn’s 20%. Four of the candidates who lost in the first round have subsequently endorsed Cawthorn.
The winner of the GOP primary will be a heavy favorite in November in the heavily Republican district against the Democratic nominee, Moe Davis, an Asheville attorney and former chief prosecutor in terrorism trials at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
Virginia: In the 5th District — which stretches through central Virginia from the Washington D.C. suburbs to the North Carolina border — four Democrats are competing in Tuesday’s primary, including Rappahannock County Supervisor John Lesinski; Claire Russo, a former Marine intelligence officer and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; RD Huffstetler, a Marine veteran and technology executive; and Cameron Webb, a Charlottesville physician and former Obama White House aide.
Virginia does not hold primary runoffs, so the top vote-getter in the primary will advance.
Republicans in the district held a convention on June 14 to pick their nominee, ousting Riggleman in favor of Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good, a former athletics official at Liberty University who was recruited to run for the position by conservative activists unhappy with the congressman’s participation in a same-sex wedding.
Good’s win over Riggleman has buoyed Democrats’ hopes of flipping the district in November, although it does lean Republican.
In the 2nd District in the Hampton Roads area, Taylor, who won the seat in 2016 but couldn’t hold hit in 2018 against Luria, is running against two other Republicans, Ben Loyola, a Cuban immigrant and defense contractor from Virginia Beach, and Jarome Bell, a retired Navy chief petty officer and football coach from Virginia Beach.
Luria is one of the top Republican targets in November, along with Abigail Spanberger, who flipped the 7th District seat near Richmond in 2018. Republicans in that district will pick their nominee from among eight contenders in a convention on July 18, rather than in Tuesday’s primary.
State law in Virginia allows parties to opt for a convention instead of a primary.
In the U.S. Senate primary, Republicans will select a nominee to face Warner from among Alissa Baldwin, a public school teacher from Victoria; Daniel Gade, a retired Army officer from Alexandria and professor at American University; and Tom Speciale, an Army reservist from Woodbridge who owns a firearm safety training company.
Warner, a former governor who is seeking his third term, is considered a prohibitive favorite in the race. Virginia hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 2002, although Warner only won by 17,000 votes the last time he ran in 2014.