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Potential Political 'Earthquake' Brewing as Booker Takes Lead Over McGrath in Kentucky

"What's going on in Kentucky, you ask? Something big."

Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker speaks at a campaign rally. (Photo: Booker for Kentucky)

Progressive state Rep. Charles Booker on Thursday overtook centrist Amy McGrath for the first time in the vote count of Tuesday's primary, raising hopes of a potential upset in the race to face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.

On Thursday morning, with more than 74,000 votes counted and 79% of the state's precincts reporting their in-person, Election Day numbers, officials reported Booker had 43.5% of the vote versus 40% for McGrath.

Since the election, McGrath had previously consistently held more votes than Booker, and was about 4,000 votes ahead of him as of Wednesday.

Results in Jefferson County, where Booker's hometown of Louisville lies, were reported on Thursday just before he took the lead, and Courier-Journal reporter Joe Sonka noted that more than 160,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted there. Absentee ballot results likely won't be known until June 30.

As Intercept journalist Ryan Grim pointed out, Booker has won 80% of the in-person vote in Jefferson County so far, signaling that many of the incoming absentee votes are likely for him as well.

"McGrath will have to hunt extremely hard to find the votes to make that up elsewhere," Grim tweeted.

Sonka cautioned on social media that hundreds of thousands of votes have yet to be counted across Kentucky and that Booker's victory is far from definite.

But Booker expressed confidence as the results were reported that the Democratic Party, which has supported McGrath and was a driving force behind her fundraising success, could soon be stunned by the election result. 

Anand Giridharadas tweeted that a victory by Booker would represent an electoral "earthquake" in Kentucky.

Booker ran on a platform prioritizing Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and universal basic income, and talked extensively throughout the campaign about growing up in poverty in Louisville and his past struggles to afford insulin for his diabetes. In Booker's introductory campaign video, he vilified McConnell for being disconnected from and dismissive of Kentucky voters during the incumbent's three decades in office while pushing legislation that prioritizes corporate profits and the wealthy.

Booker was endorsed by progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and by Kentucky's two largest newspapers and members of the state's Democratic establishment including former Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. 

In its endorsement of Booker, the Courier-Journal editorial board wrote, "It's time to shake up the establishment" and criticized McGrath for being "overly moderate," "unimaginative, and uninspiring."

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