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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, 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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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, 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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