Charles Booker launches exploratory committee for Rand Paul’s U.S. Senate seat

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Former state Rep. Charles Booker announced Monday that he is launching an exploratory committee for the 2022 U.S. Senate race as he attempts to build support for his progressive vision for Kentucky.

“Kentuckians deserve a senator who will fight as hard for us as we fight for each other, and that’s why I’m formally announcing an exploratory committee for U.S. Senate,” Booker said in a press release. “We can, we will, and we must build a future that works for all of us instead of just for a wealthy few.”

An exploratory committee is a step shy of officially announcing his candidacy. Also known as “testing the waters,” it allows Booker to poll, travel the state, make phone calls and, most importantly, fundraise without officially declaring himself as a candidate.

In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader Monday, Booker said he was launching the exploratory committee as a way to listen to Kentuckians. He said by exploring the race, he brings more Kentucky voices into the fold.

“The only way the change will happens is with the people you know so I think taking it to the people and saying let’s build this path forward together,” Booker said. “It is not a sign of indecision, it’s a sign of commitment.”

Booker, who ran in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and came three percentage points shy after surging late in the race, has long indicated that he had his eyes on the U.S. Senate race. In an interview on KET last month, he told host Renee Shaw that he was “seriously considering” the race.

Should he get the nomination, Booker would be running as a progressive in a deeply conservative state that voted to re-elect former President Donald Trump by 26 percentage points.

Kelsey Cooper, a spokeswoman for Paul, pointed to a recent Trump endorsement in response to Booker’s announcement.

“Kentuckians know there is no greater champion for the values they hold dear than Dr. Rand Paul, and like President Trump stated in his recent endorsement, Dr. Paul has a proven record of fighting the liberal Washington agenda,” Cooper said. “Kentuckians don’t want to defund the police, to ban the lawful ownership of guns, or Nancy Pelosi’s Green New Deal.”

Booker said he’s speaking to the same issues that caused people in Kentucky to vote for Trump — a general feeling that they are ignored and that the system is broken. He argued it isn’t about the often hot-button traditional issues in elections but a matter of making sure people can put a meal on the table.

“It won’t be a flip,” Booker said. “It’ll be an obvious decision to say wait a minute. We are all in this thing together we fight the same battles, why shouldn’t we fight together? Why shouldn’t we join together?”

In the last few months of his 2020 campaign, Booker gained national prominence after protests over racial inequality thrust him into the spotlight and he picked up support against the Democratic frontrunner Amy McGrath. While he fell short of winning the primary, he emerged with a strong base of support and a national profile.

When asked what he felt like he learned from losing the close primary, Booker said it reaffirmed that there were people throughout the state who believed in him and his vision and that his biggest problems were a lack of time, money and attention.

“For the most part, it was a matter of introducing a new story against a lot of money, that a lot of folks weren’t expecting and didn’t know what’s possible,” Booker said. “The big difference now is that people are expecting more.”

Still, Booker will face the challenge of keeping his momentum in a state where many question whether a Democrat can win statewide. A Democrat has not won a U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky this century and Paul won his last election by nearly 15 percentage points.

While it remains to be seen whether there will be a competitive primary for the Democratic nomination, Democratic National Committee chairman Jaime Harrison lent his support to Booker on Twitter and wished him “good luck” Monday. Booker endorsed Harrison in his run for U.S. Senate in South Carolina, where he lost by around 10 percentage points.

Will Charles Booker be Amy McGrath all over again in Kentucky’s 2022 Senate race?