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Amy McGrath fends off progressive opponent in Kentucky Senate primary

Progressives make gains in recent primaries
Progressives make gains in Tuesday's primary elections 09:42

CBS News projects that former fighter pilot Amy McGrath has won the Democratic Senate primary in Kentucky and will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November. McGrath narrowly defeated state representative Charles Booker, who challenged McGrath from the left in a race that was tighter than expected.

Several establishment Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, backed McGrath, and she was the heavy favorite early on in the race. She raised over $41 million, and spent a chunk of that money in June in advertisements against Booker. McGrath unleashed an ad blitz in recent weeks highlighting her Kentucky roots and making the case for how she'd fight to get McConnell out of office, while McConnell answered her with ads calling her "Extreme Amy McGrath." 

Booker's campaign saw a surge in enthusiasm as the candidate appeared in protests over the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a Louisville woman killed in her home. He criticized McGrath for not participating in the protests. He also picked up endorsements from Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and supported progressive policy ideas like "Medicare for All."

Booker joined the race in January and raised less than $800,000. He launched two ads against McGrath. The first ad, "On the Ground," took a soundbite from a recent debate where McGrath said she had not participated in protests, and cut to Booker with a megaphone at a protest. The second one, called "Real Democrat," said Kentucky needs a real Democrat, one who will fight for Kentuckians "and not help just Trump get his way," as he implied McGrath would.

Any Democrat would face an uphill battle in trying to defeat McConnell, even though the Senate majority leader is unpopular in his own state. The state remains solidly Republican — President Trump won Kentucky by over 30 points in 2016. In 2014, when McConnell faced Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, he defeated her by 16 percentage points.

McGrath unsuccessfully ran for a House seat in 2018.

Eleanor Watson contributed to this report.

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