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 McConnellTrump seeking challenger to McConnell as Senate GOP leader: report Budget chairman: Debt ceiling fight 'a ridiculous position to be in' Buckle up for more Trump, courtesy of the Democratic Party 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.
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.”
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 TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims 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 BarrRepublicans press Biden administration to maintain sanctions against Taliban World Bank suspends aid to Afghanistan after Taliban takeover GOP lawmaker aims to block Taliban from accessing international funds MORE (R-Ky.) in 2018.
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-CortezMcCarthy on Dems' spending bill: 'The amount of money we spent to win World War II' On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Photos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress MORE (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersManchin suggests pausing talks on .5 trillion package until 2022: report Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Sanders calls deadly Afghan drone strike 'unacceptable' MORE (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Trojan Horse of protectionism Federal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants 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."