Insurgent threatens to derail McGrath-McConnell showdown in Kentucky

After coronavirus stalled any effort at toppling McGrath, the protests against police brutality are sparking newfound momentum for Booker.

“How do you run your campaign when you can’t go anywhere? And then these protests come around, and I think it helped Charles find his footing and find his voice,” said Jones, who considered running for the seat and criticizes the DSCC. He acknowledged that McGrath remains the favorite but predicted a close finish.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a race where somebody has this much money and seems to be struggling,” he added.

Most Democrats declined to criticize McGrath on the record. Even Sanders gave a guarded response when asked why he felt the need to weigh in.

“We’re going to support progressive candidates who are fighting for the issues that we believe in,” Sanders said this week.

Democratic leaders were perplexed by Sanders’ intervention. As Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) put it: “Bernie may have made some promise to someone along the way.”

“She is in the mainstream of Democratic thinking, and I think is very electable in the commonwealth of Kentucky,” said Durbin, who is from neighboring Illinois.

Despite the intrigue in the primary, Kentucky is not central to Democrats’ campaign for the majority. Party officials say that it’s one of the longest shots to flip this election, and the money soaked up by McGrath would arguably go much further in North Carolina, Montana and Iowa.

“Those polls that show it tied are real. But the composition of the undecideds should give us great pause. I am more bullish on South Carolina, Texas — I mean, almost every other race,” said one Democratic senator familiar with party strategy.

McGrath has been squeezed on both sides down the stretch: Booker is running an ad claiming she’s not a “real Democrat” and suggesting she’s too pro-Trump, while McConnell’s campaign released a new ad attacking her support for Trump’s impeachment and calling her “extreme.”

“You can’t run against McConnell from a defensive crouch with a playbook that was obviously cooked up by consultants. You have to perform every day, drive a message and keep him on his back foot,” said Adam Jentleson, who was a top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Only Charles will be able to do that. “

Broihier, a Marine veteran and farmer, is also aiming for voters not sold on McGrath, focusing on rural counties where Booker is less present while also running to McGrath’s left, which could complicate projections.

“Kentucky was essentially given a candidate, from the outside,” said Liam deClive-Lowe, Broihier’s campaign manager. “People didn’t like that.”

Turnout is uncertain. The May election was delayed due to Covid-19, and all voters are eligible to request mail-in ballots. But only one in-person voting location is open in each county — including Jefferson, home to Booker’s base in populous Louisville — and some Democrats fear chaos similar to Georgia.

McGrath’s campaign has joined a lawsuit for more in-person voting options. The extensive mail-in voting could also mean Booker’s momentum is too little, too late.

One former elected Democrat in the state praised Booker’s campaign and said his recent endorsements “have taken him from having no shot to having a real shot.” But this former official already voted absentee for McGrath and questioned Booker’s ability to get his message in front of enough voters in time.

McGrath has had no trouble getting her message out since her grassroots fundraising prowess has let her blanket the commonwealth’s airwaves for months.

“We’ve been able to build a team to match Mitch McConnell in fundraising, and that’s one of the reasons we’re neck-and-neck with him,” McGrath said. “We’re going to give him a challenge like he’s never seen.”

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