LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Former Marine pilot Amy McGrath overcame a bumpier-than-expected Kentucky primary to win the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination Tuesday, fending off progressive Charles Booker to set up a showdown with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Voting ended June 23, but it took a week until McGrath could be declared the winner due to the race’s narrow margins and a deluge of mail-in ballots. The outcome seemed a certainty early in the campaign but became tenuous as Booker’s profile surged as the Black state lawmaker highlighted protests against the deaths of African Americans in encounters with police.
Kentucky switched to widespread absentee voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, and election officials needed days to count ballots. McConnell, a key ally to President Donald Trump, already breezed to victory in the GOP primary in his bid for a seventh term.
Since last summer, McConnell and McGrath looked past their primaries to skirmish with each other, and now those attacks are expected to intensify as they head into the fall campaign.
McGrath was backed by the Democratic establishment looking for a challenger to keep McConnell tied down in Kentucky as the GOP tries to hold its Senate majority. She raised prodigious amounts of campaign cash that put her on equal footing with the always-well-funded McConnell.
Despite her advantages, McGrath sweated out her primary victory against the hard-charging Booker.
Booker’s long-shot Senate bid surged amid the national eruption of protests against police brutality. He joined demonstrations in his hometown of Louisville to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by Louisville police in her own home. Booker gained the backing of leading national progressives as he supported a universal basic income and Medicare for All — ideas that McGrath resisted.
McGrath charted a more moderate course inside Democratic politics. She supports adding a public health insurance option as part of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and supports expanded access to Medicare for people 55 and older.
She portrays McConnell as an overly partisan, Washington insider who exemplifies what’s wrong with national politics. She accuses McConnell of undermining labor unions, awarding tax cuts for the wealthy and cozying up to pharmaceutical companies while people struggle to afford prescription drugs.
McConnell accuses her of being too liberal for Kentucky on issues ranging from abortion to border security. He promotes his work with President Donald Trump — who remains popular in Kentucky — to appoint conservatives to fill federal court seats. McConnell also plays up his Senate leadership role and his ability to steer federal money back to the Bluegrass State.
Trump could turn into a focal point in the Senate race.
McConnell led the effort to defend the president after House Democrats impeached him. McGrath has said she would have voted to convict Trump on both impeachment counts. She accused of the GOP-led Senate of lacking “the guts” to put a check on “out-of-control presidential power.
FULL STATEMENT FROM AMY MCGRATH ON VICTORY:
“I’m humbled that Kentucky Democrats have nominated me to take on Mitch McConnell in the general election and can’t wait to get started in sending him into retirement and finally draining the toxic Washington political swamp that he built.
I want to congratulate Charles Booker for his very impressive result, and also to Mike Broihier for stepping into this arena and making his passionate voice and ideas heard. I am proud to have competed against these men and, undoubtedly, doing so made me a better candidate. I hope I can rely on them for their help, guidance and advice for the fight ahead of us.
There is no doubt that Charles tapped into and amplified the energy and anger of so many who are fed-up with the status quo and are rightfully demanding long overdue action and accountability from our government and institutions. Sadly, our system is broken. We need to elect people who will have the courage to meaningfully tackle the socio-economic, legal and educational inequities that continue to prevent true equality in our country.
And I commend Mike, who has served his country and his commonwealth in so many ways—as a Marine, a farmer, a teacher and a candidate who was dedicated to representing each and 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 bigger fight ahead of us.
While each of our experiences are unique, as a woman in the military, I had to repeatedly fight the establishment during my 20-year career. No one needs to convince me of the urgency to address the issues of equal pay and equal justice, affordable health care for all, real action on voting rights, and ending the corrosive grip that corporate special interests have on our federal government.
But there can be no removal of Mitch McConnell without unity. 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. There is far too much at stake. The differences that separate Democrats are nothing compared to the chasm that exists between us and the politics and actions of Mitch McConnell. He’s destroyed our institutions for far too long.
A year after showing the country that Kentucky won’t hesitate to replace an incompetent and unpopular incumbent Republican like Matt Bevin, let’s do it one more time.” – Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Amy McGrath.
STATEMENT FROM CHARLES BOOKER
As a poor black kid growing up in the West End of Louisville, I spent a lot of my life feeling alone and invisible. I don’t feel alone anymore. Our movement, with faith much larger than a mustard seed, went up against $40 million and the entire Washington establishment, and I think it’s safe to say we shocked the world. From the hood to the holler, we stood our ground, and went toe to toe against the big donors, pundits, and DC politicians saying it wasn’t possible to run the kind of campaign I’ve always believed Kentucky deserves.
We’ve proven Kentuckians are hungry for a new kind of leadership, one that puts working people and their struggles before corporate special interests and the corrupt politicians who serve them. We’ve proven you don’t have to pretend to be a Republican to run as a Democrat in Kentucky, and that people want big, bold solutions to the enormous crises our state is facing, whether that’s structural racism and inequity, generational poverty, climate change, or a health care system that leaves millions uninsured and uncovered. Our campaign caught fire because we did the impossible: we spoke the truth in Western Kentucky, locked arms in Eastern Kentucky, rallied for Black lives across the Commonwealth, and talked with coal miners about a Green New Deal. We stood up for teachers and labor. We inspired Kentuckians in the forgotten places to believe their voices matter, and to get involved in the political process. We fought for Medicare For All because health care is a human right, and we talked about true public safety because Breonna Taylor didn’t deserve to be killed in her own home. The tear gas burned, but we didn’t sit down; we showed the country what Kentucky is made of.
We went from being down 50 points in the polls to falling just short of a tie. While I’m disappointed, I’m so proud of us, and I’m still hopeful. Hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians left behind by Mitch McConnell came together to demand a better future, and a better government. We’re not going anywhere, and we’ll have more news on the future of our movement in the coming days.
While we commend Gov. Beshear and state leaders for quickly pulling together a voting system that protects public health and ballot access amidst unprecedented circumstances, I want to acknowledge that our campaign has heard from voters across the state who had trouble making their voices heard, and their votes counted. Too many Kentuckians still can’t check the status of their mail-in ballot online, and others have no idea if their ballot is among the thousands that were cancelled by election officials because of missing signatures, missing flaps, or improper sealing. We’ve explored legal remedies to those problems, and they don’t exist under current law.
I want to be clear: this isn’t about me and Amy. I accept the results of this election, and concede this race. But we will push in the coming days to ensure transparency and accountability in our state’s electoral system, because it is essential that every single Kentuckian has faith in our democracy as we go forward.
“Lastly, let me say this: don’t ever let someone tell you what’s impossible. Don’t ever give up on your dreams for a brighter future. No matter where you are from, what color your skin is, how much money you have, who you love, what pronoun you use, whether you walk or use a wheelchair, or what you believe—you matter. You deserve a government that accounts for your humanity. From this moment on, let’s take the frustration we feel and commit to fighting for change like never before. Let’s dedicate to the work of beating Mitch, so that we can get him out of the way. Yes, I would love to be your nominee, but know I’m still by your side. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Kentucky, I love you. From the hood to the holler.”Charles Booker
STATEMENT FROM MITCH MCCONELL ON 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. 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.”Mitch McConnell
(This story was originally published on June 30, 2020)
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