OP-ED: The Implications of Charles Booker’s Senate Race Against Rand Paul


Nikhil Polepalli

For the past 22 years, the two Kentucky seats in the United States Senate have been controlled by Republicans. The two current senators—Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul—have held their seats since 1985 and 2011 respectively. However, the streak of Republican domination in Kentucky’s representation in the Senate may come to an end next year during the 2022 senate elections.

One year ago during the 2020 senate race, Democrats had an opportunity to end the streak when Amy McGrath ran against Mitch McConnell. Unfortunately, despite McGrath outraising McConnell by 30 million dollars, she was defeated by nearly 20 percentage points. This monumental loss was most likely due to McConnell’s immense power, influence, and recognition—all stemming from his long-lasting incumbency. 

Following such a devastating defeat, an important question arises: have Democrats lost the confidence to win a senate seat—ever—in Kentucky? So far, it seems like they have. At this moment, only two candidates have announced their run for the Democratic primaries to fill Paul’s seat: Charles Booker and Ruth Gao. Booker served in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 2019 to 2021 and was Kentucky’s youngest Black lawmaker. Ruth Gao is currently the Democratic chair for her precinct and is vice-chair for the Democratic party in her legislative district. Having received the majority of the media attention and democratic support, including endorsements from Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and The Sunrise Movement, Charles Booker is the clear favorite to win the Democratic primary. 

For instance, he has some prior experiences when it comes to Democratic senate primaries, especially since recently he ran against Amy McGrath for the Democratic nomination in 2020. After the death of Breonna Taylor, Booker stood as one of the main voices in Kentucky criticizing police brutality, as he surged in the polls towards the end of the primaries. While Booker may have lost the vote, the growth of his voter base and the momentum he received will prove to be valuable. Despite this, Rand Paul has nearly tripled Booker’s fundraising since July 1st. The gap in funding could very well be a sign of a lack of Democratic confidence in their ability to win a senate seat in Kentucky. 

Given Kentucky’s voting record in past elections, Booker’s social progressiveness, and lack of funding and name-brand influence, analysts are skeptical that Booker will be able to pull off the win against Paul. However, if Booker were to pull off the upset, he has promised to resolve racial tension, rid of corruption at the highest levels of government, and ensure that all Kentuckians have access to quality health care and a living wage. Booker is confident that he will be able to “replace the old Southern Strategy with a new one that lifts love and unity over hate and division.” 

With Booker’s increasing name recognition and momentum, if he were to win the election, it could signal a strong sign to Democrats about the demographic in Kentucky, giving them the much-needed confidence going into the 2024 elections when McConnell’s seat is once again up for reelection. Will the Democrats select a favorite to rid of McConnell and throw money at them as they did for McGrath? Will it be enough to surpass McConnell’s influence, power, and strength? These questions remain to be answered.

While Booker’s chances of beating Rand Paul may seem viable, the strength of his voter bases and his campaign’s momentum should not be overlooked. This election will have expansive impacts not just for Kentuckians, but for all Americans. Only time will tell how it’ll play out.