McGrath Narrowly Defeats Booker to Win Kentucky Democratic Senate Primary

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Retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath narrowly defeated an unexpectedly fierce challenge from progressive state Rep. Charles Booker in the race for Kentucky’s Democratic Senate nomination to face off against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in November.

The Associated Press declared McGrath the winner Tuesday afternoon after initial in-person voting results from the June 23 primary were too close to call. The delay in announcing the full results was brought on by the influx of voters voting by mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout the week as votes were being counted, the results fluctuated showing Booker in the lead as he largely won urban counties. However, McGrath was able to catch up to Booker when results from rural areas helped her deliver victory.

With 99 percent reported, McGrath led with 45.4 percent to Booker 42.6 percent or by just under 12,000 votes. All but 11 of Kentucky’s 3,685 precincts had reported results.

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McGrath congratulated Booker and her nine other Democratic primary opponents in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

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“I’m humbled that Kentucky Democrats have nominated me to take on Mitch McConnell in November, and I can’t wait to get started to send him into retirement, and finally draining the toxic Washington political swamp that he built,” McGrath said in a statement. “Thank you to every candidate who stepped up to run in this race. Like so many, I am inspired by the powerful movement Charles Booker built to fight systemic racism and injustice and rightfully demand long-overdue action and accountability from our government & institutions. I commend Mike Broihier, who has served his community & country in so many ways & was dedicated to representing every Kentuckian. I am proud to have been in this race with these candidates. I look forward to seeking their help, guidance, and advice for the fight ahead of us.”

She also called on her fellow Democratic primary opponents to unity in the “removal of Mitch McConnell.

“But there can be no removal of Mitch McConnell without unity,” McGrath continued. “We must unify our Democratic family to make that happen, including those who didn’t vote for me in the primary, and I intend, immediately, to start the dialogue necessary to bring us all together in our common cause for the general election. The only way to overcome these odds is by building something bigger than just one candidate. I will work hard to earn the trust and support of all Kentuckians, including those who voted for someone else last week.”

McGrath was considered the frontrunner after gaining a high-profile in 2018 when she narrowly lost to unseat Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) to represent Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. Backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) earlier this year and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, McGrath raised a staggering $41.1 million. 

The dynamics of the senate primary shifted earlier this month due to protest and unrest over the death of George Floyd overtook cities across the nation. Booker raised his profile as he emerged as a national voice with his public appearances during a local protest in Kentucky by calling for justice over the recent police killing of two Louisville residents. This helped Booker raked in $1.5 million in the final weeks as well scoring a series of high-profile endorsements from three of the biggest names in the progressive movement — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

McConnell campaign issued a statement following McGrath victory.

“Extreme Amy McGrath is lucky to have gotten out of the primary with a victory, but her reputation sustained significant damage all across Kentucky. McGrath is just another tool of the Washington Democratic establishment who has no idea what matters most to Kentuckians,” the statement reads. “It’s clear this self-proclaimed most liberal person in Kentucky who supports government-run health care and abortion even in the ninth month does not represent Kentucky values. Amy, it’s great to have you.”

Unseating McConnell will almost certainly be an uphill battle for McGrath and Democrats. With President Trump on top of the ballot in November, and the President carried Kentucky by 30 points in 2016, the chances the Bluegrass state will send a Democrat to the Senate is unlikely. Currently, the Kentucky Senate race is rated by Cook Political Report as “likely Republican.”