McGrath defeats Booker in Kentucky Senate Democratic primary, NBC News projects

Adam Edelman
·3 min read

Amy McGrath has won Kentucky's U.S. Senate Democratic primary, NBC News projects, edging out progressive Charles Booker in a tougher-than-expected race for the right to face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.

McGrath, a ret. Marine Lt. Col. who was backed by several establishment Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had initially had been a heavy favorite in the race and held an enormous fundraising edge over Booker, a state Representative whose candidacy received the support of progressive lawmakers and groups.

But Booker ended up mounting a far tougher challenge than expected, fueled by momentum from his vocal support for protests against the shooting death by police of a Louisville woman.

On Tuesday, a week after the election, McGrath led Booker 45.1 percent to 42.9 percent, a margin of about 11,600 votes, with 95 percent of the state's precincts reporting, according to NBC News. The tally had been delayed because of the large number of mail-in votes that needed to be counted of election day.

The Kentucky secretary of state said that 161,238 people voted in-person last Tuesday, but there were more than a half million mail-in ballots.

McGrath raised $2.5 million in her first 24 hours. The early Democratic fervor for her candidacy cooled, however, when she said in an interview with The Courier-Journal of Louisville that "I probably would have voted" to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who's widely loathed by Democrats. She later tweeted that "upon further reflection and further understanding of his record, I would have voted no."

McGrath continued her fundraising prowess, and as of June 3 she had raised over $41 million, according to the most recent filings. But she had to dip into that money for ads to fight off a late surge from Booker, who entered the race only in January.

"First, we have to remove Sen. McConnell from office," McGrath said in series of tweets after being declared the winner. The only way to overcome these odds is by building something bigger than just one candidate. I will work hard to earn the trust and support of all Kentuckians, including those who voted for someone else last week."

Booker said in a statement on Tuesday, "While I’m disappointed, I’m so proud of us, and I’m still hopeful. Hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians left behind by Mitch McConnell came together to demand a better future, and a better government.

"I accept the results of this election, and concede this race. But we will push in the coming days to ensure transparency and accountability in our state’s electoral system, because it is essential that every single Kentuckian has faith in our democracy as we go forward," the statement said.

Booker, who supports "Medicare for All," the Green New Deal and universal basic income and campaigned against inequality and racial injustice, joined protests over the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a Louisville woman who was shot dead in her apartment on March 13 by police executing a "no-knock" warrant. He netted endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., among others.

Booker also made an issue of McGrath's failure to join the protests against Taylor's death — leading her to air an ad decrying the death of George Floyd. Booker noted that she didn't mention Taylor in the ad.