The Democratic Party’s more establishment wing is victorious in a high-profile Kentucky Senate primary despite a late surge from a rising progressive lawmaker.
Retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath has beaten state Rep. Charles Booker in the state’s Democratic U.S. Senate contest, The Associated Press projects.
The call came Tuesday, a week after the primary, as absentee ballots were counted.
McGrath, who ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2018 in Kentucky, raised tens of millions of dollars for the Senate race and had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
But Booker had momentum in the primary’s waning weeks, garnering the support of notable progressives, including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
As WKYU’s Ryland Barton reported, the 35-year-old Black lawmaker “made a late surge after participating in protests over racial violence that erupted in his hometown of Louisville.”
The unrest followed the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, who was shot by Louisville police after they used a no-knock warrant to enter her apartment.
After gaining attention for the protests, Booker released an ad highlighting McGrath’s answer in a June 1 debate, where she said she hadn’t been to a Louisville protest in the days beforehand. McGrath’s campaign later told The Wall Street Journal that she had taken part in “a march, a vigil and a reconciliation event.”
Despite holding a clear front-runner status for the majority of the primary, McGrath — a 45-year-old retired lieutenant colonel who worked in Congress and at the Defense Department — also appeared to make an early misstep with Democrats last summer when she said she would have supported confirming Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. She quickly reversed her stance the same day.
While McGrath maintained a big fundraising lead throughout the primary — bringing in nearly $41 million — Booker’s late popularity has helped his campaign take in an additional $2.4 million since June 1, about triple his previous fundraising total.
McGrath will now face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who easily won the Republican primary.
Though McConnell holds a low approval rating of 37%, according to a Morning Consult report from the end of 2019, the 78-year-old overwhelmingly was reelected in 2014 with similarly low levels of approval.
Plus Kentucky is a red state, so McConnell, who’s vying for a seventh term in the Senate, begins the general election campaign as the clear favorite.
NPR’s Benjamin Swasey contributed to this report.