Kentucky Politics

U.S. Senate hopeful Charles Booker has been endorsed by several of his Democratic colleagues in the state House of Representatives, including the three members of the party’s legislative leadership.

Booker is one of the top three Democratic contenders hoping to replace Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate, where he has served since 1985.

Though the endorsements for Booker came from a little less than half of Kentucky House Democrats—16 out of the 38 member caucus–they are a reminder that not all Kentucky Democrats are on board with Amy McGrath, a retired marine fighter pilot who has garnered national attention while raising and spending millions during the campaign.

Kentucky House Democratic Leader Joni Jenkins, of Louisville, said that Booker is “head and shoulders” above his primary opponents.

“I have a lot of confidence in the voters of Kentucky that they will not be bought. That they are going to look at the character and experience,” Jenkins said.

Booker is a 35 year-old lawyer and former administrative director of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2018.

Though he shies away from being called a progressive, Booker has campaigned to the left of McGrath, advocating for big progressive proposals like a single-payer health system, universal basic income and the Green New Deal.

Booker says he’s pushing for policies that people across the state want—clean water, secure jobs, sustainable housing and infrastructure.

“Now, at the national political level, you might want to call it a Green New Deal, for me I’m saying it’s a Kentucky new deal because we need investment in people,” Booker said.

Booker has to contend with the fundraising juggernaut created by McGrath, who has been endorsed by the U.S. Senate’s campaign fundraising arm—the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee—and who had $14.7 million on hand at the end of March.

At that time Booker had $70,025 and the other major candidate in the race, Lincoln County farmer and retired marine Mike Broihier, had $76,536.

But some progressives in Kentucky soured on McGrath following a bumpy campaign roll-out last summer, in which she said she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, and then retracted the statement.

No polling on the primary race has been released, but a poll released on Wednesday by Public Policy Polling showed a majority of Kentuckians disapproving of McConnell’s job performance—41% approve, 48% disapprove—and showed McConnell defeating a generic Democrat by 3 percentage points.

Kentucky’s primary elections are on June 23. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all Kentuckians will be eligible to vote by mail or vote in person early.

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