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Second time’s a charm? Charles Booker makes new run for Kentucky U.S. Senate seat

Former Democratic legislator from Louisville will face uphill climb to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Rand in 2022

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

KentuckyLOUISVILLE (CFP) — When he launched his first run for the U.S. Senate in 2020, few observers gave Charles Booker a snowball’s chance in a Kentucky August.

booker 2

Democrat Charles Booker announces U.S. Senate run

He was just 32, had served in the legislature for just one year, and was trying to wrestle the Democratic nomination away from Amy McGrath, a fundraising powerhouse who had the full backing of Senate Democrats and their leader, Chuck Schumer.

But then, Booker took a leading role in social justice protests in Louisville after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, his charismatic style caught the imagination of the Democratic left, and — amid an uneven, uninspiring and hyper-cautious campaign from McGrath — he came within 16,000 votes of pulling off what would have one of the year’s biggest primary upsets.

Exiting the race, Booker told his supporters, “Don’t ever let someone tell you what’s impossible.”

A year later, he’s trying the impossible again, this time with a run for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat, held by Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul.

“A lot of people don’t believe that change is possible in Kentucky. We’re going to prove the doubters wrong,” Booker told supporters at his kickoff rally in Louisville July 1. “We’re going to win this race, and we’re going to transform Kentucky, and it starts right now. Let’s go.”

Video of Booker’s announcement speech at end of story.

And Booker made it clear that whether or not his optimism is borne out, or whether or not the race against Paul ends up being competitive in the end, his quest to unseat Paul will be fiery, unapologetically liberal and in-your-face, in a way McGrath never was.

“Randal Howard Paul — I see you. I see you, but you don’t see us,” Booker said. “Rand Paul thinks we are a joke. He mocks us whenever he opens his mouth. He’s mocking us. He’s an embarrassment to Kentucky because he does not care.”

“He thinks his job is to stir dysfunction, to weaponize hate and essentially dismiss Kentuckians altogether.”

Rand’s response to Booker’s announcement telegraphed the likely Republican strategy against him; namely, pounding him on his more left-wing positions in a conservative state: “I just don’t think defunding the police and forcing taxpayers to pay for reparations will be very popular in Kentucky.”

What happened to McGrath in 2020 illustrates the decidedly uphill nature of Booker’s quest in 2022. She spent $90 million to lose to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell by 20 points, failing to even break 40%.

Of course, McConnell is a more formidable political force than Paul, and McGrath’s near loss to Booker in the Democratic primary — in which he beat her in Louisville-Jefferson County by 36,000 votes — was a glaring sign of her weakness as a candidate. Booker does have stronger political skills, and it seems likely at this point that he won’t have to battle through a primary.

Still, Donald Trump carried Kentucky by 26 points in 2020, and Paul heads into the race with Trump’s endorsement. And a Democrat has not won a Senate race in the commonwealth for 30 years.

Booker’s theory of the race is that he can reach, rally and motivate voters on the left, rather than trimming his sails to appear more moderate, which did not work for McGrath. To that end, he has hired two campaign operatives involved in Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock’s runoff win in January, which won with a rallying-the-base strategy.

Booker, like Warnock, is a charismatic African-American candidate with an engaging, pulpit speaking style. However, Kentucky has a much smaller black population than Georgia and is much less urban. Louisville’s impact on the statewide vote will not be as determinative as Atlanta’s was.

Indeed, Booker’s loss to McGrath shows the challenges of a base-centric style in the Bluegrass. He beat her in Louisville and Lexington, but she won the primary by carrying most of the rest of the state.

So, the key question for 2022 is, can he find enough votes in more heavily populated parts of the state to overcome Paul’s margins in more rural areas? Or can he cut into those margins with an economic appeal to rural voters in poorer counties in Eastern Kentucky, where Democrats still have local influence?

Another wild card in this race is the amount of institutional support Booker might get from national Democrats, for a race that is seen as rather less than winnable. The powers-that-be who went all in for McGrath may be wary of going down that road again, although, as Paul’s foil, Booker should be able to raise enough money on his own to be competitive.

It is not impossible for a Democrat to win statewide in Kentucky, as Governor Andy Beshear proved in 2019. Then again, Beshear was running against Matt Bevin, whose performance as governor had made him as popular as a bad rash. Paul starts the race in much better shape.

Booker starts the race with an audacious belief in his own chances, and he has clearly decided that caution is not the better part of valor. While that may or may not end up making a senator, it will make the Kentucky Senate race among them most compelling of the 2022 cycle.

Video of Charles Booker’s announcement

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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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