As Charles Booker enters the homestretch of an uphill battle to defeat Rand Paul for a seat in the U.S. Senate, it’s obvious that the Louisville challenger’s path to victory is a razor-thin one, where anything short of bottling lightning over the next two months will probably result in a loss.
Most signs and analysts point to Paul — a well-funded libertarian Republican in a red state — cruising to reelection. He won’t campaign much. He won’t unveil new problem-solving ideas. He won’t pitch the public. He likely won’t stand on a debate stage. He’ll just rely on name recognition, major network ad buys and a bet that Kentucky is allergic to change.
But, let’s say, hypothetically, Booker — a progressive, grassroots Democratic who runs on an optimistic, electric, clear-eyed vision — pulls off the upset.
Not only would that have a tremendous impact on a tightly-contested U.S. Senate, where both parties are scrambling to get an edge in what seems like a chamber that could be bent in either direction, but a Booker victory could also easily update, influence and inspire the quality of future candidates who come from Kentucky’s Democratic Party.
Too many Dems in previous state-wide elections have walked on eggshells around political ideology, mincing words about their stances on big issues, and borderline apologizing for being slightly left of center.
(In an embarrassing pander while running for U.S. senate in 2020, Democratic candidate Amy McGrath ran an ad featuring a Trump voter who said he was voting for McGrath to “drain the swamp” and get rid of Mitch McConnell.)
Booker has a kind demeanor, but he is unapologetic and transparent about his belief system. He’s not afraid to talk about universal healthcare, universal basic income, reparations, strong unions and pumping money into other federal programs. He has used his campaign slogan “From The Hood To The Holler” to symbolize the potential of state unity. He wants people to feel seen. He also wants to lay out everything he stands for as he campaigns, instead of the old elect-me-and-find-out model.
We need more of that.
The insincere, stand-for-nothing Democrat in Kentucky has to be a paradigm of the past.
Booker could be a catalyst for the future. Paul, who is a robotic budget hawk who loves to dip into conspiracy, voted against the COVID-relief-focused American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, two major pieces of federal legislation passed in 2021.
He spent a lot of the pandemic screaming nonsense at Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Elections are either won on hope or fear.
Paul leans into fear, continuously framing the government that he’s lingered in as a corrupt, irredeemable force that needs to be slowly chipped away at and disempowered. He believes fierce cowboy capitalism is the only way. He wants to rip away government funding from every sector of American life and frame it as freedom from an oppressor.
Booker radiates hope. He believes in directing money toward programs that will combat poverty, changing a brutal healthcare system, fighting impending climate doom and other crushingly large issues that impact almost every average American.
If Booker catches fi re on the campaign trail and pulls it off, it would be pretty earth shattering to the political landscape, both on a state and national scale. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the national rise of a new generation of bold, forward-thinking Democrats who lean further left than their predecessors, but those politicians are mostly contained to dark blue parts of the map. Kentucky electing Booker would catch a ton of attention, and move the needle for progressive candidates everywhere. It would help dispel the myth that Democrats need to play it safe in certain areas. And it would prove that big ideas, empathy and connecting with people can win anywhere.
The odds are long, but the ripple effects would be profound.
While Booker likely needs a bit of a meltdown from Paul, and several memorable moments himself, I keep thinking back to what the progressive candidate told me during an interview shortly after his campaign launched.
And that’s that Paul doesn’t often have Kentucky on his mind, because he’s too busy playing the game in Washington.
“The main reason why not only is he susceptible to losing, he will lose, is he doesn’t see the people of Kentucky,” Booker told me. “Nor does he care about the people of Kentucky. And it’s very obvious. The people of Kentucky see it. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, everyone sees he is a joke. All we ever needed — and all we need — to meet this moment in our politics are folks that have there courage to speak the truth, and to show love, and to go to those places that have been ignored and left behind.”
Keep Louisville interesting and support LEO Weekly by subscribing to our newsletter here. In return, you’ll receive news with an edge and the latest on where to eat, drink and hang out in Derby City.