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Amy McGrath beats Charles Booker in tight Kentucky Democratic Senate primary, NBC News projects


Amy McGrath address supporters after her loss during her Election Night Event at the EKU Center for the Arts on November 6, 2018 in Richmond, Kentucky.

Jason Davis | Getty Images

Democrat Amy McGrath defeated Charles Booker in a close Senate primary race in Kentucky shaped in its final stretch by a reckoning over systemic racism, NBC News projected. 

McGrath led Booker by about 2 percentage points as the state counted the final mail-in ballots a week after the election. She will try to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a November election closely watched by Democrats who hold a special ire for the top GOP senator.

McGrath, a 45-year-old White Marine veteran, once seemed to have a tight grip on the election on the strength of more than $40 million in fundraising. But Booker, a 35-year-old Black state representative, gained traction as he joined recent protests against police violence and racism — including the March police shooting of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, in his hometown of Louisville. 

Rep. Charles Booker

Bryan Woolston | AP

As the coronavirus pandemic led certain states to expand voting by mail to promote safety, the state expected roughly 800,000 votes by mail — many of them cast days before the election, according to The Washington Post. In the Democratic Senate primary, Booker fared significantly better among voters who cast their ballots in person than those who did so by mail. 

While McGrath had support from Senate Democrats’ campaign arm and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Booker earned late endorsements from liberal stalwarts such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. McGrath has vouched for a more centrist policy platform than Booker, who has embraced plans from a single-payer “Medicare for All” system and a Green New Deal energy and jobs program. 

A Booker win would have added to apparent triumphs for liberal candidates in congressional primaries last week. Jamaal Bowman, a Black middle school principal, leads Rep. Eliot Engel in the Democratic primary for New York’s 16th District, while Black lawyer and activist Mondaire Jones leads the primary to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey in the state’s 17th District. Both men ran on a progressive platform. 

McGrath faces a challenge in trying to unseat McConnell. The senator won his last election in 2014 by more than 15 percentage points. 

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