With the Kentucky Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in the home stretch, state Rep. Charles Booker of Louisville struck a hopeful note Thursday that recent events in the race have generated enough momentum to lift his campaign to victory.
A series of appearances in a number of Kentucky cities Thursday culminated with an outdoor rally in Bowling Green at the Garvin House, which was attended by about 200 people wearing masks and observing physical distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are at an inflection point and if we stand together now, we will do what many thought was impossible,” Booker said. “If we do this, we will break barriers now for so many people we don’t even know to be able to have a better life.”
Though the campaign to determine who will face off in the general election against U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell involves a 10-way Democratic primary, most observers have seen Amy McGrath as the favorite.
A former Marine fighter pilot, McGrath carried some name recognition into the primary after running a competitive race in 2018 for a congressional seat against Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., and has raised more than $41 million thus far in this election, dwarfing her primary opponents.
The 35-year-old Booker has significantly raised his profile of late, however, due in large part to his involvement in protests against racism that have broken out after the death last month of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota and demonstrations calling for the prosecution of the Louisville Metro Police Department officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead in her home in March as police executed a no-knock warrant.
Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones, the emcee for Thursday’s event, said Booker’s visibility at those protests is emblematic of a person rising to the occasion.
“Change in politics and in government and in life comes when a man and a moment meet, and this is the moment and this is the man,” Jones said while introducing Booker.
Booker, a Louisville native, has earned the endorsement of a number of state and national Democratic figures, reached a $2 million fundraising goal this month and has run a campaign on a progressive platform that attempts to connect with urban and rural voters on common issues.
Polling has been scarce in the election, in which many Democratic voters have already mailed their ballots.
An internal poll released last week by the Booker campaign showed him trailing McGrath by seven points among people who have not yet voted, but an independent poll released Thursday by online polling company Civiqs gave Booker an eight-point lead.
“Coming from a place that everybody ignores, I know that change only happens if we inspire people that have been forgotten,” Booker said. “If you have seen the pain as we grieve and mourn in the streets in real time because no one was going to hear us any other way, then you know that the challenges we’re facing now demand a new type of leadership.”
M.J. Mayo, a Western Kentucky University student attending the event, said she had been a McGrath supporter until last week, when the protests in Louisville and elsewhere in the state persuaded her that Booker would be more capable of addressing issues of poverty, structural inequity and racism in the state.
“I want more diversity in our representation,” said Mayo, who studies political science.