In Blow to Schumer, McGrath Lead Evaporates in KY Senate Primary

McGrath outspent insurgent Dem lawmaker 40:1

Amy McGrath / Getty Images
June 25, 2020

Left-wing insurgent Charles Booker on Thursday jumped to a lead over Amy McGrath, the establishment-backed candidate in Kentucky's Democratic primary who has spent 40 times more than her competitor.

McGrath now trails Booker, a progressive state representative, by nearly 3,000 votes. The swing occurred after officials from Jefferson County—which includes Booker's hometown of Louisville—reported in-person vote totals from Election Day. Booker topped McGrath in the county by nearly 65 points, receiving more than 8,300 votes to McGrath's roughly 1,650.

The race is still far from over. No counties in the state have reported absentee ballot voting, and more than 40 counties have reported no votes at all. Nearly 600,000 Kentucky voters returned absentee ballots, compared with 161,000 who voted in person on Tuesday and 110,000 who voted in person prior to Election Day.

The barrage of absentee ballots could help McGrath close the gap, as Booker's campaign failed to gain significant momentum until mid-June, weeks after absentee voting began in the state. Ballot requests in many counties, however, peaked around the time of Booker's surge. In addition, Jefferson County has received more than 160,000 absentee ballots as of Thursday morning—Booker is expected to win a sizable margin of those votes given his ties to the area.

Booker celebrated his newfound lead in a Thursday morning tweet, saying, "something big" was going on in the state. McGrath has yet to address the new vote total.

McGrath will become the biggest fundraiser to lose a congressional primary in U.S. history should she fail to close the gap. She was endorsed by the Chuck Schumer-controlled Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in February, using the national support to raise nearly $41 million. Nearly 97 percent of her campaign funds came from out-of-state donors, as McGrath ran watered-down ads in major liberal cities to court donors.

Booker, meanwhile, raised just $793,000 as of June 3, spending $508,000 to McGrath's nearly $22 million. McGrath did not respond to a request for comment and did not indicate whether she would support Booker financially should he win the nomination.

Booker's campaign was boosted by Black Lives Matter protests across the state following the police killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis. While Booker was seen front-and-center at protests across the state, McGrath said during a June 1 debate that she had not attended a demonstration. Booker enjoyed a slew of national endorsements following the debate. He is backed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), and progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.).

Absentee ballots are expected to be reported statewide on June 30, one week after Tuesday's primary. The eventual nominee will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who won his primary by 82 points, in November.