Can Charles Booker really pull this off and defeat Amy McGrath in US Senate primary?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A month ago, retired Marine and Democrat Amy McGrath's nomination to run against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this November was widely seen as inevitable.
Then state Rep. Charles Booker surged into the spotlight, scoring endorsements from big-deal politicians and groups, a rush of campaign donations and major social media buzz.
But can he actually turn this sudden wave of popularity into a victory over McGrath in Tuesday's primary election?
Political watchers say she's still the front-runner, but Booker is finally, truly in the game. An upset isn't likely, they cautioned, but it is possible.
"He has surged at just the right moment," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "Is it large enough to overcome her lead? Maybe, although I wouldn't bet on it. ... It's one thing to surge. It's another thing to win."
However, University of Louisville political science professor Dewey Clayton said Booker's unabashedly progressive platform and perceived authenticity is reverberating.
"I’ve not seen, in quite some time, someone gain momentum this late in the campaign," he said. "I think it's going to be a close race."
Booker entered the U.S. Senate race in January, about six months after McGrath and Mike Broihier — a retired Marine and Kentucky farmer who's another notable candidate in the crowded Democratic primary — kicked off their own campaigns.
From the start, Booker said he planned to win by building a grassroots movement around his candidacy, which focused on a vision of ending generational poverty and promoted progressive policies such as "Medicare for All" and the Green New Deal.
But it wasn't until Louisville's protests against racism and police brutality began in late May that the movement Booker talked about building started to noticeably emerge.
Booker quickly joined protesters in the streets of his 真人百家家乐官网网站hometown, where people were (and still are) demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who died in March after Louisville police officers shot her in her 真人百家家乐官网网站home.
Booker's participation in the protests drew attention and support within and outside of Kentucky, spurring speculation that McGrath might not be a shoo-in.
"What Democratic Party primary voters are learning is that they have a choice to make, and previously they may have thought the McGrath nomination was inevitable," University of Kentucky political science professor Stephen Voss said.
Joy Simic, 47, of Louisville, who went to see Booker at a meet and greet this week, said his decision to join the protests mattered to her.
"I know what it's like to be that minority," she said. "To always feel like you're never being heard."
Ali Gautier, who attended the same event as Simic, said she showed up for Booker because he already did that for her by joining the protests.
"Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old Black woman living in Louisville, and so am I," she said. "Show up for who shows up for you."
See also: as of June 3.
Her hefty financial lead doesn't doom Booker, though.
Voss said it's the challenger's resources — not the front-runner's — that matter, and Booker doesn't need as much money as McGrath to compete.
“Once he gets enough money to get a message out there, to start distributing ads and setting up social media outreach — once he’s being treated as viable by major players — then you have a live race," Voss said.
Sabato, from the University of Virginia, agreed.
"The old rule, which I subscribe to, is it’s not whether you spend the most money in a contest. It’s whether you spend enough to get your message out to the voters," he said Friday. "If the voters want to choose you, they have to know who you are and what you stand for. Well, (Booker's) got enough money to do that."
Booker has taken advantage of his recent swarm of attention and donations.
He put out his Ice Cube and Nick Offerman.
But McGrath is keeping up the pressure. Her campaign spent over $3 million on ads for the last week of the race.
Booker fans got some good news this week: A new poll conducted by Oakland, California-based Civiqs showed him with a lead over McGrath, 44% to 36%.
But a McGrath spokesman countered that her campaign has three new internal polls that showed McGrath holding a double-digit lead over Booker.