“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” —Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Star Wars.”
Losing campaigns can become the springboard to enormous success.
As the results of the Democratic primary became clear, discussion of what Charles Booker will run for next quickly became a popular topic. There will be plenty of time for that conversation, but Booker’s work in this election isn’t over. Sure, he’s got unfinished business with Mitch McConnell — but his campaign now has to be much bigger than only the fight to retire McConnell.
Kentucky needs Booker to continue to fight — for all of the Democrats running in November. His appeal to voters across the state — “from hood to holler” — can help Democrats win seats in the state Senate and House and, perhaps, take back the 6th Congressional District held by Republican Andy Barr.
Long-term, Booker’s campaign created the type of movement that is needed to change the paradigm for the Kentucky Democratic Party.
The first, most important step for Booker was to avoid becoming a divider: unite the party, expand your base and allies. Even in an excruciatingly close loss — one that he had to wait for over a week to suffer — Booker cleared that hurdle with class.
On a social media post, he said:
“We are sick of generational poverty. We are sick of structural racism and a status quo that is killing us.
Our common enemy is Mitch. We must beat him, so we can do the real work. I understand that and am reaching out to @AmyMcGrathKY to discuss how we can truly work together.
To beat Mitch we need a movement. We are that movement. Together, we have the chance to transform our future. We can’t miss it.
There is power in unity. Not mere gestures, but truly locking arms to work for real change. I’ll never stop speaking up.
I’m still fighting for you.”
McGrath and her supporters have to be happy with his efforts to unite the party.
Meanwhile, Booker isn’t dismissing McGrath’s voters who could be there for him at some point in the future. Also, if McGrath and Democrats have any shot at defeating McConnell, it can come only with the entirety of Booker’s supporters. So, if Booker were to undermine that effort for unity in any way, it would also undercut the integrity of his entire campaign.
Even with Booker’s support, it’s still an enormous challenge for McGrath to defeat McConnell. In the most recent presidential election years, when turnout is highest, the winner of the Senate race has won with about 1 million votes (2008: 945,067 for McConnell; 2016: 1,090,177 for Rand Paul)
This means McGrath will need every one of Booker’s votes, plus Democrat Mike Broihier’s votes, plus at least another 400,000 votes (unless she discovers a way to flip 200,000 McConnell voters). What’s more likely is that Booker can help drive turnout and interest in the general — just as he did in the primary — and help down-ballot races.
The large turnout his campaign drove in Louisville and Jefferson County helped Karen Berg win a state Senate, special election race in District 26 — the first Kentucky Senate seat to go from Republican to Democrat since 2010. (Berg lost the portion of the district in Oldham County by about 1,400 votes, while she won the Jefferson County side by over 7,000 votes.)
Democrats need to win 13 seats in the state House to take over the majority, which is almost as unlikely as defeating McConnell but not impossible.
Then, there is Barr, who only won re-election in 2018 by 10,000 votes, or about 3 percentage points (over McGrath). The vast majority of the district’s votes come from Lexington and Fayette County, where Booker beat McGrath by 7 points (in her home district). Democratic Party unity, Booker’s appeal here in particular, could help Democrats take back the seat for the first time since 2012.
Finally, what about the Kentucky Democratic Party?
The KDP is Gov. Andy Beshear’s. He remains the top Democrat in the state until there is another governor, and the party’s organization will follow. Yet, it would be to his benefit to recognize the potential Booker holds for the future of the state party, not to mention for his own re-election interests in 2023.
Likewise, Booker has to see the potential for expanding his reach through Beshear’s KDP and more, let’s say, traditional, middle-of-the-road Democrats. This could be a power-couple too good to pass up.
All of these efforts work to advance Booker’s campaign message to help the people of Kentucky, and that would only help prepare him for his next run for political office. The early, easy speculation is Louisville mayor in 2022 or possibly Congress in 2022. I say, who knows? Booker turned an underdog campaign into a national movement. He has over 270,000 followers on Twitter. Elected office might not be where he can make the largest change.
Then again, Paul is up in 2022. While he is not the Sith Lord that McConnell is, perhaps Booker is the Jedi we’ve been waiting for.