Retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath belatedly won the Democratic primary in Kentucky on Tuesday to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November, setting up a long-anticipated race that had recently been in doubt.
McGrath’s support and campaign war chest were too much for Charles Booker, a Black state representative from Louisville who accumulated support and key endorsements as protests over police killings took center stage in Kentucky and across the country.
Booker was not able to get enough primary votes in Louisville and Lexington to overcome McGrath’s strength in less populated parts of the commonwealth.
McGrath was leading Booker, 45 percent to 43 percent, when The Associated Press called the race Tuesday afternoon, a week after primary day. Most votes were cast through mail-in absentee ballots, and officials in key parts of the state waited a week to receive and count them before releasing results.
McGrath, who had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was the sought-after candidate in the race after coming about 3 points short of ousting Republican Rep. Andy Barr in the Lexington-based 6th District in 2018.
McGrath’s fundraising ability makes her a potentially strong challenger to McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term, but the majority leader’s campaign organization in his home commonwealth is already firing on all cylinders.
McGrath will be challenged to do better than McConnell’s 2014 opponent, former Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was ultimately defeated by about 15 points.
Despite the level of support for President Donald Trump in Kentucky, McGrath’s campaign and national Democrats have pointed to polling showing her within the margin of error in a state where voters ousted GOP Gov. Matt Bevin last year. Republicans contend that Bevin’s and McConnell’s races cannot be compared.
McConnell, a key force in building the Republican Party of Kentucky, has a well-regarded campaign infrastructure across the state.
As of June 3, McGrath had raised $41.1 million and had $19.3 million in her account, whereas Booker raised $793,000 and had $285,000 left. McConnell raised $32.7 million and had $15.4 million left.
Outside spending heavily favored the Democrats, with $2 million spent this year against McConnell and only $120,000 supporting him, according to disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. Groups supporting Booker spent $78,000 while those supporting McGrath spent $329,000.
McConnell, who had six nominal primary challengers, was declared the winner one minute after the polls closed last week. The race is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.