Police protests upend Democratic Senate contest in Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Charles Booker was in the shadows for months talking about racist and economic justice to take on Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell. Then there was a national outbreak over the deaths of black Americans from encounters with the police.
Booker's bid for the Democratic Senate nomination is now increasing from the left wing of Kentucky politics, which is an unexpectedly tough challenge for the party's favorite, former Navy fighter pilot Amy McGrath.
Booker was supported by the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., And the state's two largest newspapers. It has created a sense of momentum and has led to an increase in fundraisers with which Booker McGrath, the long-time leader, beat up in television advertising. It also added a degree of uncertainty to the script in the Democrats' efforts to overthrow McConnell, who is seeking his seventh term.
"You've all seen a shift in the past few weeks," said Booker, a fresh legislator, at a rally in his hometown Louisville last week. "There is something in the atmosphere. Something is really going on here. We are all part of the story. "
The 35-year-old Booker was in the spotlight during the outbreak of protests against the police, in part due to the death of Breonna Taylor, a black ambulance that was shot by Louisville detectives who knocked her front door but found no drugs had. Booker marched with demonstrators and felt the sting of tear gas. His voice got scratchy from speaking so much.
"Seeing people grieving and screaming on the street - demanding humanity, demanding justice for all - sparked a spark," Booker said.
The Republicans also seem to be experiencing a moment of political change. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, mentions Taylor almost daily and has passed laws to revise police practices.
"We're still grappling with America's original sin," McConnell told reporters last week.
Despite the political upheavals, McGrath's primary school benefits are considerable. As a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, she drew attention to herself with ads that highlighted her military service. This helped to achieve an exceptional cash advantage over Booker and other challengers. It also runs close to the political center in a state that is conservative, while Booker is unabashedly progressive.
"I believe Kentuckians know that I am the best candidate to fight for and defeat Mitch McConnell," said McGrath.
Booker, who grew up poor in an inner-city neighborhood, is committed to general health care, poverty reduction programs, and changes in criminal justice. Under the motto "From the hood to the scream", he claims a relationship with poor rural whites, whom he says are facing the same economic struggles as he is.
The protests across the country, Booker said, "are about people standing up and calling for real structural change" to fight what he calls "institutional racism" and "generational poverty". He says the mostly African American neighborhoods he grew up in have more in common with Appalachia than with the rest of Louisville.
Democratic MP Angie Hatton, who represents an Appalachian region in southeast Kentucky, said Booker's economic message is arriving in her district.
"Poor is poor," said Hatton. “And we may see things differently in some social issues ... but when it matters, my district needs help with poverty and opportunities to get us out of poverty with well-paid jobs in health insurance. And his needs are the same. "
Booker's focus on poverty helped him gain support from the stars of the progressive movement. In addition to Sanders, he was supported by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY. He also received support from former two-year incumbent Alison Lundergan Grimes, who lost to McConnell in 2014.
"We will win this race," said Booker. "This is our time."
However, it remains to be seen how the support from the left will affect the voters of the state. McGrath, who spent millions on television and radio advertising last week in the campaign, said, "I don't think Kentuckians want people from outside of our Commonwealth to tell them how to vote."
Another complication for Booker is that he risks sharing the vote with his progressive colleague Mike Broihier while McGrath drives a more centrist course. The unprecedented manner in which the Kentucky primaries are held - with widespread postal votes due to the corona virus - is another wild card. Many Kentuckians voted early.
"We have heard everyone say," I might have voted for Charles if I had known he had a chance, "said Hatton.
Local officials in some counties, including the two most populous states that cover Louisville and Lexington, say they won't publish results until all votes are counted. Country-wide district clerks must submit the total number of votes to the Secretary of State by June 30, one week after the election.
A tense wait for the primary results is something few would have predicted earlier this year when McGrath appeared to be on a glide path to the nomination. It received the support of the national party at an early stage and, thanks to its fundraising campaign, has been on the air with television advertising since last year.
Democratic strategist Mark Riddle said Booker had successfully "held a moment and sometimes moments define campaigns."
"The question is, does it have enough closing speed to catch it?" He said.
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Kellman reported from Washington.
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