LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Looking to flex his newfound influence among Kentucky Democrats after his Senate campaign fell just short, Charles Booker reached out Thursday to unite behind Amy McGrath’s uphill fight to unseat Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Booker, a progressive who lost to McGrath by about 15,100 votes in primary election results released Tuesday, portrayed McConnell as “our common enemy” in the struggle for racial and economic justice issues that formed the foundation of his campaign.
“We must beat him, so we can do the real work,” Booker tweeted.
Booker said he was reaching out to McGrath to “discuss how we can truly work together.” There is “power in unity,” he said, and called for a campaign of “not mere gestures, but truly locking arms to work for real change.”
McGrath welcomed the overture, praising his movement as a “fight for justice.” She tweeted: “Your voice and perspective are much needed, and I look forward to taking on Mitch with you.”
McConnell campaign spokeswoman Kate Cooksey responded that a McGrath-Booker alliance might “earn plaudits from the liberal elite, but not the vast majority of Kentuckians.”
“After getting only 45% of the vote from Kentucky Democrats, McGrath obviously needs all the help she can get to be remotely competitive against Mitch McConnell,” Cooksey said.
McConnell’s campaign questioned whether McGrath would shift toward Booker’s views on issues.
“It’s one thing to say they’re united, but she has to walk the walk with his supporters,” Cooksey said.
McConnell’s campaign has already cast both Democrats as too liberal for Kentucky.
During the primary campaign, Booker chided McGrath for her more moderate course, saying a “real Democrat” was needed to take on McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term.
Booker’s Senate bid surged amid the national eruption of protests. He joined demonstrations in his hometown of Louisville to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in her own home. Booker gained the backing of leading national progressives as he supported a universal basic income and Medicare for All — ideas that McGrath resisted. Booker’s slogan “from the hood to the holler” aimed to unite Black and white Kentuckians behind his message.
In staking out more moderate positions inside Democratic politics, McGrath supports adding a public health insurance option to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and expanding access to Medicare for people 55 and older.
Booker’s support would be a huge asset for McGrath in Louisville, where she needs massive support in the Democratic stronghold against McConnell. Booker dominated the primary vote in the state’s largest city.
Kentucky Democrats, who have watched Republicans dominate statewide politics for years, benefited from a team effort last year, when Rocky Adkins campaigned alongside Andy Beshear. Beshear defeated Adkins in the Democratic primary and then won the governorship last November.
The top-ranking House Democrat, state Rep. Joni Jenkins, said Booker can help expand McGrath’s support.
“Charles Booker brought out youth, he brought out folks that didn’t normally vote in primaries,” Jenkins said. “He really brought a lot of excitement to the table. And I’m hoping that those new voters will embrace Amy.”
Despite the disappointment of barely losing the primary, Booker is “staying true to his goal, and his goal was to retire Mitch McConnell,” Jenkins said.
His willingness to be a team player could strengthen Booker’s status in the Democratic Party and position him for another run for office. Booker already is being mentioned as a potential candidate for future local or statewide elections, including the 2022 Senate race. Republican Sen. Rand Paul has already said he’ll run for another term then.
Jenkins acknowledged that Booker’s strong showing in the Senate race gives him plenty of options, adding: “I think we will see him on a ballot again sometime soon.”