U.S. Sen. Rand Paul says he’s not concerned by a potential challenge from former state Rep. Charles Booker during his race for reelection next year.
Booker, a Democrat, has hinted he will run and is holding a “special announcement” in Louisville on Thursday, possibly to announce his candidacy. He formed an exploratory committee earlier this year to raise money for the potential run.
Paul, a Republican who’s been in the Senate since 2011, has been touring the state this week. During a stop in Shelbyville, Paul said he doesn’t think Kentucky voters will support Booker’s progressive stances.
“I just don’t think it’s going to be very popular to want to defund the police. I don’t think most Kentuckians think that somehow infrastructure is reparations for slavery, or somehow Kentuckians think they need to pay reparations for slavery, I just don’t think that’s going to be very popular,” Paul said.
Booker’s campaign did not answer a request to respond to Paul’s statements.
Booker ran for Senate last year, sprinting to prominence amid racial justice protests, but narrowly lost the Democratic nomination to retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath during the primary election, which was delayed until June due to the pandemic.
McGrath ended up losing to Kentucky’s senior Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell by a landslide during the general election.
Paul didn’t directly respond to a question of whether he would debate Booker if he runs, saying “we’ve always debated” and suggested other Democrats might get into the race and win the nomination.
During his 2016 campaign, Paul debated Democratic candidate Jim Gray in just one televised debate.
Paul also said it’s “unlikely” he’ll run for president in 2024.
“I have no plans to do it. Really I’m focused on 2022. I think the Republican side of things will be upended until former president Trump decides what he is going to do as well,” Paul said.
In 2016, Paul ran for the presidency and reelection to his Senate seat at the same time, a move that is normally forbidden in Kentucky under a law that precludes candidates from appearing on the same ballot twice.
However, Paul convinced the Republican Party of Kentucky to hold a presidential caucus for the first time in 30 years in addition to the conventional primary election, enabling him to run for both.
During the stop in Shelbyville, Paul said he expected the main issues of the campaign to be inflation and income stagnation.
He also reprised his complaints of how National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear have responded to the pandemic.
Paul accused Fauci of “not being honest with us about where we are in the pandemic.”
“I think most people think it’s largely over, that the numbers have gone down very low, and probably we do have herd immunity if you count vaccines and natural immunity. But he discounts natural immunity completely, which I think is not very scientific,” Paul said.
A National Institute of Health study released earlier this month shows that people who have been infected with the virus and those who received an mRNA vaccine develop immunity differently—and that people who have been vaccinated might be more protected from coronavirus variants.