McGrath leads Booker in Kentucky with results due next week

Democratic establishment favorite Amy McGrath was leading progressive challenger Charles Booker by just more than 8 points in their hotly contested Kentucky primary on Tuesday ahead of results due out next week.

McGrath, a former combat pilot, was leading with 45 percent of the vote in the race to determine which Democrat will face off against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Republican lawyers brush off Trump's election comments MORE (R-Ky.) in November, with nearly 62,000 votes counted, according to The Associated Press.

Booker, a Kentucky state representative who experienced a late surge of momentum amid the protests against racial injustice roiling the country, had 36.5 percent of the vote.

ADVERTISEMENT

The race is one of a handful in which progressive insurgents on Tuesday were looking to challenge long-term incumbents or moderates backed by the Democratic Party establishment.

However, results are not due out until June 30 as Kentucky, like other states, has experienced a surge in mail-in ballots to reduce the health risks from voting in person amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed an executive order allowing all of the state’s 3.5 million registered voters to request absentee ballots without providing an excuse for doing so. Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday and received by June 27.

Meanwhile, the state’s two largest counties, Jefferson and Fayette, have chosen to withhold all results until June 30, the last day for counties to report election returns.

“As eager as we all are to get results, I am grateful for the extra effort and due diligence to make sure every voice is heard and every vote is counted. Right now, I want to thank every single person who has supported us along the way,” McGrath said in a statement Tuesday night. “As we wait for results, I hope everyone takes a moment to get a little rest, recharge your battery, and buckle up for what’s next.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Kentucky is just the latest state to grapple with a spike in voters casting their ballots by mail during the coronavirus pandemic despite strong opposition from President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE.

Primaries earlier this year in states like Pennsylvania and Georgia took several days to call as officials tallied up the votes a potential harbinger of things to come in November.

In-person voting options were often chaotic, with long lines after Kentucky cut the number of limited polling sites for Tuesday’s primaries.

The delay in results will keep the suspense going for one of the most anticipated Democratic primaries this campaign cycle. Nearly 890,000 of Kentucky’s 3.5 million registered voters had requested absentee ballots as of last Tuesday, the last day to do so, according to the secretary of state’s office.

McGrath had long been seen as the favorite for the Democratic nomination, garnering support from party leaders and raking in record sums of money after her high-profile but unsuccessful challenge against Rep. Andy BarrAndy BarrReclaiming the American Dream Powell, Mnuchin stress limits of current emergency lending programs McConnell holds 12-point lead over Democratic challenger McGrath: poll MORE (R-Ky.) in 2018.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Booker began surging in recent weeks amid unrest over systemic racism and police brutality after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The state representative was seen rallying with demonstrators at protests and speaking passionately on the issue, particularly after Breonna Taylor, an Black woman, was killed by police in the part of Kentucky he represents.

Booker has also gone after McGrath for her absence from the recent protests in Louisville. He launched an ad last week featuring a clip from a June 1 Democratic debate in which McGrath says that she had not joined the demonstrations because she was spending time with her family. 

The state legislator received endorsements from national progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline McCarthy says there will be a peaceful transition if Biden wins Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid MORE (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters Republicans not immune to the malady that hobbled Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election MORE (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds On The Money: Half of states deplete funds for Trump's 0 unemployment expansion | EU appealing ruling in Apple tax case | House Democrats include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package Warren, Khanna request IG investigation into Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds MORE (D-Mass.). 

But one of Booker's most influential endorsements came from Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s former secretary of state and one of its most prominent Democrats. Grimes unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for his seat in 2014. 

Whoever wins the primary will face McConnell, who easily won the Republican primary on Tuesday in a race that has already been called.

The Democratic candidate will have a tough race against the well-funded McConnell despite strong desire by moderates and progressives alike to defeat him in November. The race is rated as "likely Republican" by The Cook Political Report.

McConnell on Tuesday expressed confidence of prevailing in November.

“I am confident Kentuckians will choose expanding freedom, creating jobs, and upholding our conservative values," he said in a statement.

"The path to stopping extreme liberal ideas — like the Green New Deal, government-run health care, and open borders — runs right through our Commonwealth," he added. "Kentuckians can count on me to continue stopping socialism in its tracks, fighting against radical liberal wish lists, and ensuring our values prevail."