A Black progressive could win in Kentucky — if the Democratic Party gets out of the way

Will Charles Booker get a fair shot to run against Rand Paul in 2022?

Charles Booker and Rand Paul.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock, AP Images)

In the only debate held for the 2020 Kentucky Democratic Senate primary contest to determine who would challenge then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the general election, Charles Booker of Louisville told the frontrunner, Amy McGrath, the truth about her ridiculous campaign strategy based on appealing to Trump voters.

"When you understand the challenges Kentuckians face, you don't run as a pro-Trump Democrat," Booker explained. "We can smell BS from a mile away."

"You're not going to convince people who voted for Trump to vote for you because you're not as bad as Mitch McConnell," the Black former state senator went on. Booker's critique mirrored that given by the other challenger on the stage, farmer Mike Broihier, who argued centrist Democrats "get creamed every time" by McConnell.

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However, the race had largely been predetermined. Booker gave McGrath a run for her money — netting sizable donations and an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders — but Democratic leadership had long tipped the scales in McGrath's favor. In 2019, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was reportedly pressed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to support McGrath, a former fighter pilot whose only prior political experience was losing a House race, in her bid to challenge McConnell. With that support came lots of money and influence that blunted other challengers, who of course, were covered as underdog insurgent candidates from the outset.

Booker lost narrowly to McGrath, who went on to be trounced by McConnell, which left many wondering if perhaps results would have been different had it not been for the national party.

Last week, Booker gave the DSCC an opportunity to atone for past screw-ups.

Booker announced he is forming an exploratory committee for a U.S. Senate run against Sen. Rand Paul in 2022. "I emphatically and urgently announce an exploratory committee for the U.S. Senate to take a stand, to build a movement, to finally remove Rand Paul from office," Booker said. "So we can have leaders at every level of government to give a damn about our lives."

That same day, Booker appeared on MSNBC's The Reid Out and discussed how, as a father with another child on the way, and after seeing yet another police shooting, this time Daunte Wright in Minnesota, now more than ever there is a need for "healing" across racial and geographical lines to tackle structural challenges.

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This is the kind of passion and analysis voters never saw from McGrath. In the debate last year McGrath responded by claiming she wants to be "a voice for everyday Kentuckians." She then proceeded to sound like every generic politician. "I'm not a polished politician," the person seeking political office claimed. "I don't see everything through a political lens."

Everything about Amy McGrath's senate bid was about politics — namely the presumption that a white woman who seemed to stand for nothing had a better shot at the Senate than the Black progressive advocating for Medicare-for-all, a $15 minimum wage, and other issues benefiting the working class. She and the DSCC assumed Kentuckians were more interested in someone who would cynically flip-flop on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh than someone who came directly from having been tear-gassed at the protests in Louisville over the killing of Breonna Taylor and who intimately understands the pain and plight of a key bloc of Democratic voters.

I don't know if Booker would have fared any better than McGrath, but I do think Democratic candidates fare better when they talk like Democrats rather than diet Republicans trying to placate members of Trump's bigot brigade. And I believe local voters should have a greater say in their elections.

I also didn't like that a Black politician who understands the class issues of all voters better than the party establishment didn't even get the benefit of the doubt. It would be to the benefit of the Democratic Party if they learn to be a bit more imaginative in their thinking of what constitutes a willing coalition and which candidates can build them. It starts with aiding people in states like Georgia and Mississippi and giving candidates like Charles Booker an equal shot.

Considering the prospective opponent in Kentucky next year is Rand Paul, the kind of person who blocks a law banning lynching and doesn't get along with his neighbors, I believe Booker can mount a competitive run. Paul has defended Trump's racism, has ties to other racists and racist causes, and is an impediment to progress. He doesn't deserve to be in the senate, but whoever his challenger is, that candidate should believe in something.

Chuck Schumer and the DSCC did not do right by Charles Booker or the people of Kentucky in the last Senate race. If Booker follows through with another run, here's hoping they won't make the same mistake twice.

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