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Politics /23 Jun 2020
06.23.20

Charles Booker Has an Uphill Battle Against Amy McGrath in the Kentucky Democratic Senate Primary, Experts Say

Kentuckians will head to the polls today to vote in the state’s primary and exclusively, the Democratic Senate Primary, which features Kentucky Assemblyman Charles Booker and former fighter pilot Amy McGrath. The winner of this election will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in what could be one of the most expensive senate elections in U.S. history.

Booker, 35, is running a progressive campaign that has picked up steam from activists and left-leaning politicians. Meanwhile, McGrath, 45, is a well-known name in Kentucky politics because of her fierce battle against now-Congressman Andy Barr for the KY-06 seat in the 2018 midterm election.

Democrats are expecting McGrath to be victorious tonight and view her as a threat towards defeating McConnell four months from now. By looking at McGrath’s fundraising total according to financial reports submitted on June 3, it is safe to say that Democrats adore McGrath’s chances in November.

McGrath has raised nearly $41 million in fundraising totals, with 62% of that total coming through small contributions of below $200. Corporations and devoted Democrats that live outside of Kentucky contribute more than 96% to her funds.

Meanwhile, her primary challenger, Charles Booker, did not scratch the surface of the one million dollar mark.

Leader McConnell has raised approximately $32 million, with 91% of the total coming from out of state voters and organizations.

“Political science research finds that fundraising tends to serve as a proxy for perceived candidate quality; that is, candidates who people think make good candidates tend to raise more money,” said Kevin Elliott, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Murray State University.

“McGrath’s fundraising advantage, therefore, likely reflects a sense that she is a strong candidate. But this, again, likely also reflects her high public profile leftover from 2018, an advantage that Booker presently lacks.”

While Booker has received a small portion of what is inside of McGrath’s campaign bank account, late endorsements from Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders have provided the last-minute spark for Booker’s campaign. A recent Civiqs poll among 898 liberal registered voters shows Kentucky’s youngest black lawmaker has a marginal 8 point lead over McGrath, according to the survey released this past weekend.

Earlier this month, the state of Kentucky announced that it would open around 200 polling stations across the state, compared to the usual 3,700-plus stations that were open for the midterm primary election two years ago. This unprecedented move leaves Booker’s base of minority and lower-class voters in the dust, as they will need to travel several miles away to cast their votes and take time off of work to fulfill their civic duty.

“A progressive candidate like Booker usually relies on two portions of the electorate: upper-middle-class professionals and urban voters, especially minority voters. The election rules in place make his come-from-behind effort an uphill battle,” said Stephen Voss, veteran political scientist and Associate Professor of political science at the University of Kentucky. “Booker’s camp will be scrambling to put together a ground game that can get their supporters to the polls…”

As Voss said, Booker’s campaign put together last-second plans this morning to increase voter turnout. Booker’s campaign teamed up with ride-sharing service, Lyft, to provide voters with a $20 credit to pick them up and take them to the polls and back to work or home.

While Voss believes McGrath has a better shot to be McConnell’s election competitor based upon the polling station controversy, Elliott believes there is a small chance that Booker may wind up hearing his name called tonight as the winner.

Elliot said, “Primaries can yield unexpected results because they often get very low turnout. This allows less known or insurgent candidates with good campaign organizations behind them to mobilize enough supporters to win. Though Booker has gotten coverage from the national press in recent days, he is fighting an uphill battle due to McGrath’s high name recognition.”

Elliott also mentioned that he believes that the battle between McGrath and Booker shows that the Democratic Party and national politics, in general, are changing towards a negative direction. “The Democratic Party has not done a great job developing its ‘bench’ of up and coming young politicians by helping them win offices and gain experience in appointive office,” said Elliott. “Booker is a first-term state representative, and McGrath has never held any office or served in government outside of the military.” Elliott also noted that the Donald Trump presidency has shown what a candidate with a lack of experience could bring into their first term in office.

In the long-run, both Elliott and Voss believe that McGrath is a stronger opponent to face against McConnell in the general election because Booker is too far left-leaning and does not attract the moderate, independent vote.

Voss said, “McConnell will attack his opponent as too liberal for Kentucky regardless of which Democrat he faces. Facing Booker will make his task easier because of Booker’s background and his explicitly progressive platform.”

Elliott also added that McConnell is “one of the least popular senators in the country, so he should certainly be worried (about losing his seat).” Elliott also noted Booker does not have a shot at beating McConnell because of his very far-left policies and campaign.