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Kentucky Primary: Amy McGrath survives scare, wins Democratic U.S. Senate nod

Results finally in after week of counting avalanche of absentee ballots

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Amy McGrath has survived a scare in Kentucky’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, narrowly defeating State Rep. Charles Booker after absentee ballots were counted.

Final results showed McGrath with 45% to 43% for Booker, whose scrappy campaign surged from behind in the closing weeks of the race to nearly inflict an embarrassing defeat on the chosen candidate of the Democratic establishment in Washington.

U.S. Senate nominee Amy McGrath, D-Kentucky

McGrath, 45, a former Marine fighter pilot who narrowly lost a race for the U.S. House in 2018, will now take on Kentucky’s most formidable political figure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term in November.

Reporting of final results was delayed for a week while elections officials counted hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots cast in a primary that had been postponed for nearly two months because of the coronavirus crisis.

Kentucky does not have primary runoffs, so McGrath won with a plurality.

Booker held a narrow lead in the in-person vote and beat McGrath by more than 20 points in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville. But she did better in the absentee vote and carried most of the rest of the state.

McGrath has raised more than $40 million and has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She spent $20 million in the Senate primary, almost all of it on ads that focused on McConnell, rather than her primary opponents.

But Booker, 35, in only his first term in the legislature, came from behind by criticizing McGrath as a “pro-Trump Democrat” unable to motivate the party’s grassroots.

He got the backing of luminaries on the Democratic left such as U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, as well as snagging endorsements from state’s two largest newspapers, the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader.

One factor in the race was 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 went 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 was shown addressing the protest crowd will a bullhorn.

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Cliffhanger in the Bluegrass: Charles Booker poised for upset in U.S. Senate Democratic primary

As absentee ballot count continues, Booker takes the lead over establishment favorite Amy McGrath

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — State Rep. Charles Booker has taken the lead in the Democratic race for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, setting the stage for one of the year’s biggest political upsets that will upend the best-laid plans by the party establishment to take out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

With the absentee ballot count continuing, Booker took a 2,500 vote lead over former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath as the first batch of votes began trickling in from Jefferson County, which includes Louisville.

While absentee ballots are still being counted across the commonwealth, the bulk of the outstanding vote was from Jefferson and Fayette County, which includes Lexington. In Jefferson, where Booker lives, he was carrying 80% of the vote; he was carrying 72% in Fayette.

A loss by McGrath — who has raised $40 million and has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — would be a embarrassing upset at the hands of Booker, a 35-year-old first-term lawmaker whose scrappy campaign surged from behind in the closing weeks of the race with the support of grassroots groups on the Democratic left.

It would also jumble the fall race in which establishment Democrats saw McGrath as their best chance to unseat McConnell, who carried 87% in his primary Tuesday against seven challengers.

In the only other contested federal race in Kentucky, Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie easily turned back a challenge from Covington attorney Todd McMurtry in the 4th District in the Cincinnati suburbs, despite his sometimes rocky relationship with President Donald Trump.

Due to coronavirus concerns, absentee balloting was expanded statewide, with more than 800,000 ballots mailed out. Election officials in Jefferson and Fayette counties have said it could take until June 30 for final results to be released.

Booker went to court to extend the poll closing time in Jefferson County, where all voters countywide voted at a single polling place at the Kentucky Exposition Center. In Fayette County, everyone voted at the University of Kentucky’s football stadium.

Amy McGrath and Charles Booker

In 2018, McGrath, 45, rode a wave from a viral announcement video  to become a national fundraising sensation in a U.S. House race in central Kentucky, which she narrowly lost.

She spent $20 million in the Senate primary, almost all of it on ads that focused on McConnell, rather than her primary opponents.

Booker criticized McGrath as a “pro-Trump Democrat” unable to motivate the Democratic grassroots. He had 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; and a number of self-described “progressive” activist groups.

However, Booker also got the backing of 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.”And he received the endorsements of former Secretary State Allison Lundergan Grimes, who lost to McConnell in 2018, and former Attorney General Greg Stumbo.

The state’s two most prominent elected Democrats — Governor Andy Beshear and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth — did not endorse either candidate.

One factor in the race was 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 went 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, touted 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 when the smoke finally clears will be the nominee.

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Primaries Tuesday in Kentucky, Virginia; U.S. House runoff in Western North Carolina

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.

Amy McGrath and Charles Booker compete in Kentucky U.S. Senate primary

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.

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Kentucky U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie faces avalanche of criticism for forcing vote on coronavirus bill

Massie insists his stand was in defense of the Constitution, but Donald Trump suggests he be tossed from GOP

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky is defending his decision to force members of the House to return to Washington to vote on emergency coronavirus legislation against a torrent of criticism — including from President Donald Trump, who suggested Massie be drummed out of the Republican Party.

Massie objected to pushing through the $2 trillion measure with unanimous consent, which required House leaders to assemble a quorum of lawmakers who had to travel from their home districts back to the nation’s capital to vote on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, rises to object in the House (From C-SPAN via YouTube)

“I came here to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber,” Massie said on the House floor, drawing audible groans from his fellow lawmakers.

Earlier in the day, Massie defended his decision to try to delay the massive spending bill on Twitter, saying “I swore an oath to uphold the constitution, and I take that oath seriously.”

“The Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House,” he said. “Right now, millions of essential, working-class Americans are still required to go to work during this pandemic … Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?”

Massie’s stand derailed a plan by House leaders in both parties to push the bill through with unanimous consent, which would have allowed members to remain in their districts, where most of them had been during a scheduled recess.

However, while Massie blocked unanimous consent, he was unable to find enough support to force a roll call vote on the bill, which passed by a voice vote and was quickly signed into law by Trump.

Massie’s move triggered an eruption by Trump on Twitter, who dismissed the Kentuckian as a “third rate grandstander.”

He just wants the publicity,” Trump said. “Workers & small businesses need money now in order to survive. Virus wasn’t their fault. It is ‘HELL’ dealing with the Dems, had to give up some stupid things in order to get the ‘big picture’ done. 90% GREAT! WIN BACK HOUSE, but throw Massie out of Republican Party!”

Trump also reacted to a tweet from former Secretary of State John Kerry after he said that Massie had “tested positive for being an asshole”: “Never knew John Kerry had such a good sense of humor! Very impressed!”

Trump’s reaction is welcome news for Todd McMurtry, a Covington attorney who is challenging Massie in the Republican primary in Kentucky’s 4th District — and would be the beneficiary if the president decides to move against Massie.

Massie had been sufficiently concerned about Trump’s potential support of McMurty that he aired an attack ad against him during Super Bowl weekend on TV in Palm Beach, Florida, where the president was staying.

The 4th District includes suburban Cincinnati and the Ohio River Valley between Louisville and Ashland.

Kentucky’s primary, originally scheduled for May, was moved to June 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While Trump and Democrats were scorching in their criticism of Massie, two members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus came to his defense.

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told Trump to “back off,” calling Massie “one of the most principled men in Congress.”

“He is defending the Constitution today by requiring a quorum. There’s nothing 3rd rate about that, @realDonaldTrump,” Roy said in a tweet.

In his own tweet, U.S. Rep Paul Gosar of Arizona called Massie “a good man and a solid conservative.”

“He believes in the Constitution strongly. We won’t always agree on strategy or policy. But he doesn’t warrant this dressing down,” Gosar said, adding “Thomas—Hang tough brother.”

Massie, 49, has served in Congress since 2012.

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“Matt Bevin can rot in hell”: Outrage erupts in Kentucky over flurry of last-minute pardons

Legislators call for investigation into pardon given to brother of man who hosted Bevin fundraiser

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Outrage is building in Kentucky over more than 400 pardons and commutations issued by former Republican Governor Matt Bevin before he left office, with the GOP leader of the state Senate now calling for a federal investigation and a victim’s family member quoted on the front page of the state’s largest newspaper saying Bevin “can rot in hell.”

Among those pardoned by Bevin: A man serving a 23-year sentence for raping a 9-year-old girl in Kenton County; a man serving 20 years for killing a Bowling Green motorist in 2014 while driving 90 mph down a two-lane road with a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit; and a woman serving a life sentence for dumping her newborn baby in an outdoor toilet in Grayson County in 2003.

Headline in Louisville Courier-Journal

But the pardon drawing the most scrutiny was given to Patrick Ryan Baker, who was serving a 20-year sentence for his role in a 2014 home-invasion homicide in Knox County — and whose brother and sister-in-law hosted a fundraiser for Bevin that raised more than $21,000 to pay off debt from his 2015 gubernatorial campaign.

Baker’s two co-defendants did not receive a pardon from Bevin; Baker, who was the triggerman in the slaying of Donald Mills, will now be released from prison, over the strenuous objections of prosecutors who put him there.

In its story on the Baker pardon, the Louisville Courier-Journal used as a headline a quote from a member of the Mills family: “Matt Bevin can rot in hell.”

Even U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — in Frankfort to file the paperwork for his 2020 re-election bid — weighed in on the pardons when questioned by reporters, calling Bevin’s actions “completely inappropriate.”

But Bevin, who called the evidence against Baker “sketchy at best,” is fighting back against criticism of the pardons, tweeting that “myriad statements and suggestions that financial or political considerations played a part in the decision making process are both highly offensive and entirely false.”

“Not one person receiving a pardon would I not welcome as a co-worker, neighbor, or to sit beside me or any member of my family in a church pew or at a public event,” Bevin said. “No community is either more or less safe now than it was before the pardons and commutations given over the past four years.”

The pardons are but the latest  in a slew of controversies that dogged Bevin’s single term in office and placed him among the nation’s least popular governors. Despite Kentucky’s Republican tilt, he was defeated for re-election in November by Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, who took over on Dec. 10.

In all, Bevin issued 428 pardons and commutations between his defeat on Nov. 5 and when he left the governor’s post. Because a governor’s power to issue pardons is absolute, there is no way to overturn them.

However, Senate President Robert Stivers — like Bevin, a Republican — is calling on federal prosecutors to investigate the pardons, which he called “a travesty and perversion of justice.”

“Our citizens, and especially the crime victims and their families, deserve better,” he said.

Democratic legislators have also called on incoming Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron to look into the pardons after he takes office next week.

Alan Simpson, the lawyer for the family of Jeremy Pryor, the victim in the Bowling Green DUI murder case, said in a statement that the pardon “screams of either a complete lack of empathy for other human beings, willful ignorance to the truth or outright corruption.” He said Pryor’s family would also press for an investigation, according to a report in the Bowling Green Daily News.

Michael “Drew” Hardy was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison after for crashing his Jeep into the back of Pryor’s vehicle after a day of heavy drinking in 2014. According to trial testimony, his blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, and he was driving 90 mph down a two-lane road at the time of the crash.

In the paperwork accompanying Hardy’s pardon, Bevin wrote that he did not believe his continued incarceration serve any purpose and that he “will arise each day for the rest of his life with a debt that he cannot possibly repay,” according to the Daily News.

In the Mills case, Baker and two other men impersonating police officers forced their way into a home in Knox County to rob it, with Donald Mills and his wife and children inside. Baker, who shot Donald Mills, was convicted of reckless homicide and robbery and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Bevin did not offer an explanation for why he pardoned Baker but not his co-defendants.

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