Kentucky Politics

Former state Rep. Charles Booker is running for U.S. Senate with hopes of defeating incumbent Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who first won the seat in 2010.

Booker launched his campaign during a rally at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in Louisville, saying he’s building on the “hood to the holler” coalition he started during his Senate race last year.

Booker directed most of his remarks at Paul, saying the second term senator doesn’t listen to the people of Kentucky.

 “Randall Howard Paul, I see you. But you don’t see us,” Booker said.

“He’s an embarrassment to Kentucky because he does not care. He literally does not care whether you live or die.”

With nearly a year and a half until the election, no other prominent Democrats have filed to run for the seat so far.

Booker ran for Senate last year and sprinted to prominence amid racial justice protests ahead of the delayed June primary election. But he was narrowly defeated by retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, who went on to lose to incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell in a landslide in the general election.

A native of the Russell neighborhood in Louisville, Booker graduated from University of Louisville’s law school. He worked as an analyst for the Legislative Research Commission, director of administrative services for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2018.

He didn’t seek reelection to the statehouse last year in order to run for Senate.

Paul responded to Booker’s candidacy with a one-sentence statement.

“I just don’t think defunding the police and forcing taxpayers to pay for reparations will be very popular in Kentucky,” Paul said.

Paul made a similar statement about defunding the police and reparations when asked about Booker’s potential candidacy during an appearance in Shelbyville on Tuesday.

Booker said Paul is trying to paint him as a “radical” to distract from substantive issues.

“They don’t want you to know that they are ignoring you while you’re falling off the cliff. They want you to think that the government working for you is a bad thing,” Booker said.

Booker will face stiff Republican headwinds during the campaign. Kentucky hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1992 and Republicans cruised to easy victories in last year’s statewide elections.

President Donald Trump won the state by 26 percentage points in 2016 and Mitch McConnell won by 20 percentage points last year.

Booker dismissed arguments that he won’t be able to win.

“If all you’ve ever seen is corruption, if all you’ve ever seen are lies and deceit, if all you’ve ever seen is politicians who don’t care about you, why would you expect things can change?” Booker said. “But the one thing I know about the people of Kentucky: we are unstoppable.”

Democrats did win one statewide election in recent history—now-Gov. Andy Beshear’s victory over then-Gov. Matt Bevin by a little more than 5,000 votes in 2019.

Republicans have attributed Bevin’s loss to the former governor’s abrasive personality and unpopularity.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.