Kentucky Democratic Primary: Showdown between Progressives and The Establishment

As most news outlets focus on the presidential race, many underdogs down-ballot across the nation are refreshing - even in Kentucky. 

Charles Booker is a name you should get used to hearing. Booker, a current Kentucky state representative, is running for a Kentucky Senate seat, a potentially pivotal piece for Democrats seeking to take control of the Senate in November.

This race is important for many reasons. He is running as an underdog against establishment Democrat favorite Amy McGrath for the democratic primary, which has already shown to be extremely contested and interesting, garnering national attention. McGrath, the former favorite amongst democrats for the senate seat in Kentucky, has recently lost her footing in many polls. Most have found Booker leading McGrath by a considerable margin - something that very few would’ve predicted just a few months ago as many thought she had a lock on the democratic nomination.

Highly supported by the democratic establishment - politicians like Chuck Schumer having pledged support - as well as labor unions, McGrath has raised an astonishing $40 million to date for her campaign. McGrath has, however, lost support due to her inconsistent opinions (see her flip-flopping on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation in one day of her announcing her bid for the senate) or her inconsistent views on President Donald Trump (who she has come out against and has come out in support of on multiple occasions). Both of these have painted her in a negative light, with many seeing her more as a career politician looking to get elected rather than someone who is looking to improve the lives of Kentuckians. 

Booker, on the other hand, is seen as a populist candidate who is using the massive progressive wave the USA has been seeing the past few years to fuel excitement for his campaign. The New York Time's Jonathan Martin described Booker as a "Black Lives Matter" candidate because he's participated in several BLM protests, even being tear-gassed.

Missing the mark: In a recent debate, McGrath avoided engagement with a poignant question: "Have you been on the ground in Louisville with the protesters in the last 3 days? Or in Lexington or elsewhere?" The former Marine pilot responded with an awkward: "I have not... I've been with my family and I've had some family things going on this past weekend, but I have been following the news and making sure that - you know, I think, we're in the middle of a pandemic..."

The issues taking center stage in his fight for the Democratic primary coming up on June 23rd are climate change, where he supports the Green New Deal, and healthcare, where he is promoting Medicare for All. Both of these solutions he is running for have been heavily promoted by progressives across the country like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Elizabeth Warren. 

Booker has garnered support from the three mentioned above who have all endorsed his bid for the Senate as well as Ayanna Pressley, a representative in Massachusetts who was similarly an underdog when she was running. Furthermore, Booker has gained endorsements from the two largest newspapers in the state, The Courier-Journal and The Lexington Herald Leader, stating that he is the best candidate for these times. 

Booker’s campaign is also leading the way for new innovative outreach tactics implemented due to COVID-19. His campaign will utilize digital organizers, which are tasked with, “identif[ing] and persuad[ing] their own network to support Charles Booker for Senate.” Persuasion will be tracked through Booker’s app.

Looking ahead to the General: Whichever way this race turns out, the true test will be against Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader from Kentucky. Having been in power for many years, McConnell is currently seen as the favorite candidate overall in this senate race. 

However, it is clear that many Kentuckians don’t approve of him. A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found that roughly 41% of Kentuckians approve of McConnell while 48% disapprove of him. In the same poll, an astonishing comparison between McConnell and Trump was pointed out. “McConnell only has a 47-44 lead against a generic Democratic opponent. By contrast Donald Trump has a 16 point lead over Joe Biden in the state, 55/39.”

This is where many believe Booker has an advantage over McGrath in that he isn’t a “generic Democratic candidate.” As mentioned above, he is running on a campaign aimed at disrupting the status quo and with progressive policies aimed at improving the lives of all Kentuckians.

Many like his sincerity, others like his policy positions. Kentucky is proving to be a battleground for this senate seat, and Charles Booker is proving to be a fighter, writing on his website, “This is our chance. This is our chance to take our future back. This is our chance to take our power back, and we are not going to wait. We are not going to sit down. Our time is now.”