Dem establishment favorite McGrath faces last-minute primary threat from the left in bid for McConnell seat

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Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath of Kentucky  – showcasing her grassroots appeal – took to Twitter this weekend to tout her fundraising prowess.

McGrath – who many Democrats hope will be the candidate to topple Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – noted that “we've crossed our 1 millionth donation mark. While the average donation hasn't changed, our grassroots team has grown stronger across KY. This is how we win - together.”


The former U.S. Marine fighter pilot hauled in a whopping $11.3 million the past three months, outraising McConnell in the second quarter of fundraising. And with a massive campaign war chest of $19 million as of the start of June, she topped the top Senate Republican when it comes to cash on hand.

But with eight days to go until Kentucky’s June 23 primary, McGrath has an intra-party fight on her hands, as one-time longshot progressive candidate Charles Booker is gaining momentum at just the right time.

The first-term state lawmaker last week was endorsed by two of the biggest names on the left – Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

And the unrest the past three weeks sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody has shined a spotlight on Booker – who’s black – as his hometown of Louisville has experienced protests.

Booker on Saturday spotlighted his momentum by sharing an internal poll on Twitter that suggested he was closing the gap with McGrath. And on Sunday, he tweeted: “Three words: WE ARE SURGING. I think we should make this trend: #CharlesBookerSurge.”

While McGrath has an astronomical cash advantage over Booker, he has the edge when it comes to in-state endorsements from elected officials and media. And the backing a week ago by popular sports radio host Matt Jones – who flirted with his own Senate run against McConnell – may help Booker outside of his home base in Louisville.

“With everything that’s gripped the country the past few weeks, it could be turning things on its head,” said Jessica Taylor of the Cook Report, a leading nonpartisan political handicapper.

Taylor noted that the protests against police brutality toward minorities and the bigger issue of systemic racism “seem tailor-made to a candidate like Booker…He has been able to seize the moment and speak to the moment.”


But complicating Booker’s effort is Charles Broihier, a farmer and a former U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel who’s also running to the left of McGrath, who enjoys the backing of national Democrats. He could siphon progressive votes from Booker in the more rural parts of the state.

Broihier on Monday touted that, “We're the only campaign with a comprehensive plan for #MedicareForAll.”

Turnout could end up being the crucial factor in the primary – which was originally scheduled for May but postponed due to health concerns over in-person voting amid the coronavirus pandemic. With all voters eligible to vote by absentee ballot, extensive early voting by mail may mean that Booker’s last-minute surge comes too late to make a difference at the ballot box.

While Booker’s momentum “certainly makes things interesting,” Taylor spotlighted that “McGrath is the one who’s had the campaign apparatus in place and has been raising astounding amounts of money and that in a traditional year should be enough to get her over the finish line.”

And a national Democratic strategist who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely stressed that “more often than not the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party  – while they’re successful in pushing their policies into the conversation – they’re less successful in actually winning these primary elections.”