In the expected outcome of a contest seen as so one-sided that it saw no recent public polls, incumbent Republican Sen. Rand Paul has defeated former Democratic state Rep. Charles Booker.
The Associated Press called the race for Paul at 7:14 p.m., just a few minutes after the crowd that was gathered on the top floor of downtown Louisville’s Muhammad Ali Center for Booker’s watch party erupted in cheers, as preliminary vote counts flashed across a projected TV screen showing the Democrat with a slight lead.
As news of Booker’s projected loss spread online, much of the crowd seemed oblivious, continuing to listen to music put on by the DJ and live musical acts.
Booker took the stage about an hour after AP called the race for Paul, saying the race had been called “prematurely.”
“Their assessment is based on the premise a Black man can’t get support in rural areas,” he told his supporters.
Towards the end of his speech, he seemed open to the idea that he might have lost, saying things like “we already won” and saying that if that projection was right, he’d never stop fighting.
During campaigning, Paul declined to debate Booker, leaving the progressive Democrat to appear solo during an Oct. 3 airing of Kentucky Tonight that was scheduled as a debate. Asked in late September whether he would debate Booker, Paul told Lexington TV station WKYT that he was “troubled by some of the advocacy for violence from the other campaign — that’s given us pause.”
Booker called Paul’s statement a “racist dogwhistle.”
In the absence of a debate, Paul attacked Booker from afar and highlighted the culture wars that have widened America’s left-right divide in recent years. One of his campaign ads spoke out against trans women athletes participating in women’s sports. On the front page of his website, “#FireFauci” is prominently listed as a “featured issue” of the campaign.
With his victory, Paul is in line to lead either the Senate’s health committee or the Government Oversight Committee, both of which would give him the ability to launch investigations into Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical advisor and the physician who led the U.S.’s COVID response under former president Donald Trump.
The only publicly available poll in the race was conducted last January and showed Booker losing to Paul by 16 points. In an Oct. 18 election forecast, Politico listed the Kentucky senate seat as “solid Republican,” writing: “GOP Sen. Rand Paul historically underperforms other Republicans in Kentucky, but Democrat Charles Booker’s campaign hasn’t come online.”
Booker leaned into his underdog status, with the video announcing the launch of his U.S. Senate exploratory committee last year opening with press clippings about how much of a long shot he was in his failed 2020 U.S. Senate campaign, where he narrowly lost in the Democratic Primary to former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath. McGrath would go on to lose to Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell by nearly 20 points, winning only three counties.
In his 2020 campaign, Booker was propelled by the racial justice protests in Louisville, which he took part in. The events helped underpin his “hood to the holler” slogan, whereby he set out that people in the poverty-stricken and mostly Black West End of Louisville, where he is from, and people in the mostly-white, rural hills of Kentucky have a lot in common.
Earlier this year, he released his memoir, titled “From the Hood to the Holler: A Story of Separate Worlds, Shared Dreams, and the Fight for America’s Future” and was also featured in a documentary (again titled “From the Hood to the Holler”).
Asked in a recent interview with LEO Weekly why he chose to run for U.S. Senate in deep-red Kentucky instead of a potentially easier race, like for mayor of Louisville or John Yarmuth’s vacated Louisville congressional seat, Booker said: “Ultimately, my life’s work — I believe this is part of my ministry — is bringing people together. And in order for us to realize justice and healing in my neighborhood in Louisville, but also across Kentucky, we need leaders at the statewide level that will raise the standard against hate and division.”
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