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'A Very Strong Run,' But Booker Falls Short to Establishment-Backed McGrath in Kentucky Primary

"McGrath's campaign collapsed just a bit too late for Booker."

Kentucky state legislator Charles Booker fell short of Amy McGrath in the state's primary. (Photo: @Booker4KY/Twitter)

With the final vote tally of last week's election announced Tuesday, progressive insurgent Charles Booker came up short in Kentucky's Democratic Senate primary to establishment darling Amy McGrath after a late rush of support which made the race much closer than expected proved not enough to secure victory.

"McGrath's campaign collapsed just a bit too late for Booker," tweeted The Intercept's Ryan Grim. "Her well-funded mail operation made the difference."

While Booker, a state representative, took a brief lead in votes last week, McGrath's campaign pulled ahead Tuesday as the final mail-in ballots were counted.

McGrath, a former fighter pilot whose campaign has relied on messaging around her commitment to President Donald Trump's agenda, was an early favorite after an ad in which she bragged about her combat missions and bombing campaigns. She raised over $41 million for her run and will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the fall.

McConnell is currently polling more than 20 points ahead of McGrath in the state's general election.

Booker's "from the hood to the holler" message and bold policy positions resonated in the waning days of the primary as the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic combined with the movement for Black lives and against police brutality to help make the case for the progressive candidate.

As the Courier Journal reported:

Booker's participation in recent protests against police brutality and racism in his hometown of Louisville catapulted him into the national spotlight and led to a spike in interest and support for his candidacy among people within and outside of Kentucky.

The protests Booker joined have focused heavily on Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman and emergency room technician who died after Louisville police officers shot her in her own home in March. Taylor's case brought a lot of attention to Louisville and, by extension, to Booker and the calls for justice he has made in solidarity with other protesters.

The coronavirus led to an emphasis on mail-in ballots and the abrupt closure of a number of polling places across the state. The closures, The Nation correspondent John Nichols noted, leave some questions about what could have been.

"There will be a lot of questions about whether the result would have been different if Kentucky had maintained more than one polling location per county," said Nichols.

In the wake of Tuesday's announced loss, supporters of Booker looked to the future. 

"Looking forward to seeing Charles Booker on a Kentucky ballot again very soon!" tweeted Faiz Shakir, campaign manager for Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' unsuccessful bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch set his sights on Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is up for re-election in 2022. 

"Charles Booker is going to obliterate Rand Paul in 2022, if I have to move to Kentucky to make it happen," said Bunch.

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