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'We Are On the Verge of Something Big': Late Booker Surge Against McGrath Leaves Kentucky Primary Too Close to Call

"This is a sign that the times are changing."

Charles Booker greeting voters in Kentucky Tuesday during the state's primary. (Photo: Booker campaign/Facebook)

Kentucky's Democratic Senate primary remained too close to call Wednesday as results from mail-in ballots around the state were not expected to be reported until next week and Jefferson County, home of the state's largest city Louisville, had yet to report any numbers. 

"We are on the verge of something big," Booker tweeted late Tuesday night.

At press time McGrath held a narrowing lead over Booker of just a few thousand votes. But that was without results from Louisville, only 10% of votes in statewide, and without counting mail-in ballots, any one of which could swing the race in either direction. 

The Booker campaign is reportedly confident Jefferson County will go to the insurgent candidate by a wide margin, citing internal exit polling showing a landslide.

The results thus far paint a disappointing picture of McGrath's viability as a major candidate against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in November. The former Marine pilot raised over $41 million after releasing a jingoistic ad touting her military credentials and targeting McConnell directly. Establishment figures lined up behind McGrath's campaign and made clear she was the party choice. 

But Booker, who entered the race in January, saw his fortunes turn as the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic and public health crises combined with the new civil rights movement for black lives and against police brutality exploded at the end of May. Progressives lined up behind the 35-year-old, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Reps. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and other outside groups like the Sunrise Movement.

In a statement, Sunrise Kentucky leader Erin Bridges said Booker's commitment to popular climate and economic policy priorities made him the group's early favorite in the race.

"When we got behind Charles, we saw it as an opportunity to show the country that the Green New Deal message could resonate in Kentucky," Bridges said. "For months, as pundits and media in D.C. wrote off Charles, Sunrise chapters in Kentucky were laying the foundation for this moment because we knew Charles and his message could win."

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"Charles ran on the Green New Deal from day one and he was able to connect with people from across the state in ways no one has seen in decades, from the West Side of Louisville to the coal towns of Appalachia," Bridges added.

As Paul Blest wrote for The Discourse Wednesday, McGrath's campaign seems to have assumed victory before it was in its grasp, allowing Booker the opportunity to make a play for the nomination.

"It appears that no one at the Senate Democrats' campaign arm bothered to talk to anyone in Kentucky about the best candidate to run against Mitch McConnell," Blest wrote. "A ton of legislative Democrats as well as 2014 Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes endorsed Booker, and zero elected officials from Kentucky appear to have endorsed McGrath—and rather just assumed that a pro-Trump candidate was the only option they had."

As The Hill reported Tuesday, the likelihood of quick results in the race is low. Covid-19 has led to a surge in absentee ballots, which must be postmarked today to be counted—but that means there will be votes coming in for days.

According to The Hill:

The decision to expand mail-in voting means that winners and losers may not be declared for days or even longer, an outcome that's likely to be repeated in November as states continue their shift to mail-in ballots.

Mail-in ballots in Kentucky, for instance, must be postmarked by Tuesday and received by June 27, four days after the primaries.

Jefferson County Clerk's Office spokesperson Nore Ghibaudy told the Washington Post Tuesday that the number of absentee ballots  requested compared to previous elections was staggering.

"Last spring, we had 1,200 people request a ballot by mail," said Ghibaudy. "Compared to 218,000 [this year]. That's a lot."

Sunrise Movement co-founder and political director Evan Weber in a statement Wednesday said the results were an indication that the political establishment needs to realign itself with the public. 

"This is a sign that the times are changing," said Weber.

"That a Black man in Kentucky running on the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and marching with Movement for Black Lives protestors, who was outraised 10-1 was able to turn this race into one of the most-watched in the country shows just how much movements are changing the political weather in America," Weber said.

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