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Amy McGrath Is Projected To Edge Out Charles Booker In Ky. Senate Democratic Primary

Retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the general election.
Bryan Woolston
Retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the general election.

Updated at 6 p.m. ET

The Democratic Party's more establishment wing is victorious in a high-profile Kentucky Senate primary despite a late surge from a rising progressive lawmaker.

Retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath has beaten state Rep. Charles Booker in the state's Democratic U.S. Senate contest, The Associated Press projects.

The call came Tuesday, a week after the primary, as absentee ballots were counted.

McGrath will now face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who easily won the Republican primary.

McGrath, who ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2018 in Kentucky, raised tens of millions of dollars for the Senate race to hold a big fundraising advantage over Booker, and had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker gained momentum in the weeks before the Democratic primary.
Bryan Woolston / AP
Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker gained momentum in the weeks before the Democratic primary.

But Booker had momentum in the primary's waning weeks, garnering the support of notable progressives, including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

As WKYU's Ryland Barton reported, the 35-year-old Black lawmaker "made a late surge after participating in protests over racial violence that erupted in his hometown of Louisville."

The unrest followed the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, who was shot by Louisville police after they used a no-knock warrant to enter her apartment.

"She lived close to my family. She served our community," Booker wrote on Twitter in May. He also spoke about how Taylor was friends with his late cousin, who was killed in 2016.

After gaining attention for the protests, Booker released an ad highlighting McGrath's answer in a June 1 debate, where she said she hadn't been to a Louisville protest in the days beforehand. McGrath's campaign later told The Wall Street Journal that she had taken part in "a march, a vigil and a reconciliation event."


Despite holding a clear front-runner status for the majority of the primary, McGrath — a 45-year-old retired lieutenant colonel who worked in Congress and at the Defense Department — also appeared to make an early misstep with Democrats last summer when she said she would have supported confirming Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. She quickly reversed her stance the same day.

In tweets Tuesday, McGrath said she was "inspired by the powerful movement Charles Booker built to fight systemic racism and injustice and rightfully demand long-overdue action and accountability from our government & institutions."

In a statement of his own, Booker said: "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."

He also called for changes to Kentucky's election system, saying: "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."

While Sen. Mitch McConnell won the Republican primary, he holds a low approval rating of 37%, according to a Morning Consult report from the end of 2019, the 78-year-old overwhelmingly was reelectedin 2014 with similarly low levels of approval.

Plus Kentucky is a red state, so McConnell, who's vying for a seventh term in the Senate, begins the general election campaign as the clear favorite.

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Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.