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Democratic favorite Amy McGrath faces surprise primary showdown in Kentucky Senate race

Amy McGrath to run for Mitch McConnell's Senate seat
Amy McGrath to run for Mitch McConnell's Senate seat 01:45

With a week to go before primary day in Kentucky, Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath is suddenly fending off an insurgent challenger: State Representative Charles Booker.

Until recently, McGrath appeared to be a shoo-in to face off against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this fall. Her compelling biography (former Marine fighter pilot) and national name ID (thanks to her high profile run for U.S. House in 2018) enabled her to raise more money than all her Democratic opponents combined – and even more than McConnell – during the last fiscal quarter.

But McGrath has had a few stumbles, and last week, the state's largest newspaper, the Louisville Courier Journal, endorsed Booker instead – describing him as a "change agent" and calling McGrath's campaign "unimaginative and uninspiring."

The Courier Journal took note of the fact that Booker has local, state and federal political experience, and his legislative record dovetails with the issues he's running on, whereas McGrath has not held public office. Booker has backed anti-discrimination legislation, and measures on voting rights, criminal justice reform, and labor laws, among others. And he also grew up in one of the poorest areas in the state — "[he] knows what it means to go hungry, to be homeless, to struggle," the editorial notes.

Booker has also scooped up endorsements from the Kentucky Herald-Leader, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

He's a first-term state representative and, at 35 years of age, Booker is Kentucky's youngest black state lawmaker. He has been visible at numerous Black Lives Matter protests in a state that has seen two recent high-profile police shooting deaths of black residents: Breonna Taylor and David McAtee. A late million-dollar fundraising surge for Booker has enabled him to run ads across Kentucky slamming McGrath as a moderate and "pro-Trump Democrat."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is still backing McGrath, and there isn't enough polling data to know just how tight the race has become. But there's a sense that Booker has momentum in this closing week and may be better equipped to take advantage of the political moment.

Early in-person voting in Kentucky started today, and the primary is next Tuesday. Of course, whoever wins the Democratic primary faces an uphill battle to unseat McConnell in deep-red Kentucky. But it's still noteworthy to see how competitive this primary has become in the closing days, especially given McGrath's national profile.

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