If McGrath wins, most Democrats who follow the race think she remains the favorite, it will be another bitter loss for the left wing of the party, which is also seeking victories in several House primaries on Tuesday. Progressives failed to face serious challenges to party establishment in most Senate elections in recent cycles and lost in the party’s presidential primaries.
If Booker manages to pull it off, it would be the first primary defeat for a candidate endorsed by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in a decade.
If the election had been in May, it was postponed for a month due to the coronavirus, “I don’t think Charles had a chance at a snowball,” said Greg Stumbo, a member of the Democratic Party in Kentucky who served as the state’s attorney general and Speaker of the House of Representatives. . “But I think he has a chance. It has some momentum. He has emotion. “
Stumbo, who spoke Monday at a rally for Booker in one of the state’s rural counties, said he has heard from more Democrats supporting Booker since he supported him last week.
“You are in the right place at the right time. If that’s enough to get over all the money he’s been putting into advertising and the name recognition he has, and all the people who say they voted before Charles really took off … “Stumbo said.” I don’t think anyone can predict this. “
McGrath’s advisers and allies continue to trust. His campaign had been probing the race constantly, but he stopped his daily follow-up after Thursday due to confidence that his numbers were stable, Mark Nickolas, his campaign manager, told POLITICO. The survey had consistently shown her rising between 10 and 13 percentage points.
But they don’t take it for granted: His campaign has increased his publicity in recent days, spending roughly $ 3 million over the past week across the state, including media markets where Booker can’t afford to advertise. Recently, he has released a message focused more directly on Democratic voters than some of his previous announcements targeting a general election audience.
“The way you win Kentucky is that you have to have an operation that can win in 120 counties, especially in rural and conservative counties,” said Nickolas.
McGrath and her allies have also focused on the argument that she is best suited to face McConnell in the fall. President Donald Trump is likely to overwhelm the state, and it would take significant cross-votes to defeat McConnell, despite polls showing her to be unpopular with most Kentucky voters. Booker’s support for “Medicare for All” and a “Green New Deal” would give McConnell easy attacks to paint him as a radical.
McGrath leans toward McConnell’s disdain among Democrats: In his latest ad, which began airing over the weekend, a narrator called it “Kentucky’s best chance to leave Mitch McConnell.”
In a interview, Booker defended his support for more liberal policies and argued that they would not be detrimental to a general election. He said he was “redefining eligibility.”
“We are going to surprise the world. And after doing so, I hope to build a new coalition of many people who did not give us a chance, so that we can move forward and fight for our future for everyone in this country, “Booker said.
It also pushed aside the massive gap in career resources. McGrath had already raised tens of millions of dollars when Booker announced that it would run in January, six months after its launch last summer.
“We were never afraid of big money,” said Booker. “That was really the main point. We knew that money is not up to the standards of people. “
But McGrath’s fundraising prowess would be a great asset to Democrats in the fall, forcing Republicans to keep an eye on Kentucky: A super PAC with close ties to the majority leader reserved $ 10.8 million in Bluegrass state for the fall, along with reserves on more obvious battlegrounds like Arizona, North Carolina and Maine.
McGrath’s campaign has spent more than $ 12 million on television so far, compared to just $ 1.3 million for Booker, which didn’t start advertising on television until the second week of June, according to data from Advertising Analytics.
An important factor creating uncertainty is changes in voting due to the pandemic. The state allowed all voters to request absentee ballots, but also limited in-person polling stations on Tuesday, including only one large polling place in Jefferson County, the state’s most populous county and home to the District of the Booker State House at Louisville
More than 860,000 ballots were cast in absentia, according to the secretary of state’s office, and more than 440,000 were returned statewide, and at least 88,000 voters voted in person during the early voting period. But long wait times on Tuesday it’s still possible, and an outcome is unlikely to be called on Tuesday because not all ballots will have been received in absentia.
Regardless of who emerges as the candidate, defeating McConnell will clearly be an uphill climb in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate in three decades. But the approaches would be very different.
“If you’re McGrath, you have a lot of resources and the ability to raise more money at the push of a button,” said Mark Riddle, a veteran strategist in the state. “And if you’re Booker, you feel like you’ve never had a movement policy against Mitch McConnell before, and maybe that’s the key.”