Washington – Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath said on Tuesday she was ready to take on Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after edging out a Black progressive to clinch the Democratic nomination for the seat.
McGrath, 45, held off fellow Democrat Charles Booker, a state legislator, who had surged late in the campaign as protests spread across the United States over police violence against Black people.
With all Kentucky’s counties reporting, McGrath won 45.4 percent of the vote to 42.6 percent for Booker, Kentucky officials said. The primary took place on June 23, but mailed ballots were accepted through Saturday, delaying the final results.
Booker conceded the race, but said he was concerned some Kentuckians could not check the status of their mailed ballots online.
“Let’s dedicate to the work of beating Mitch, so that we can get him out of the way,” Booker said in a statement.
McConnell, 78, the most powerful Republican in Congress and a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, is seeking a seventh six-year term.
“Last November, Kentuckians didn’t hesitate to replace an incompetent and unpopular incumbent. This November, we’re going to do it again,” McGrath wrote on Twitter, referring to Democratic Governor Andy Beshear’s 2019 defeat of Republican Matt Bevin.
McGrath won establishment Democrats’ backing early in her campaign, and raised a massive $41 million.
Emphasizing her military experience, she often stressed that she was the “only candidate who can win” against McConnell, who has represented Kentucky in the Senate for over three decades.
McGrath follows in the mold of a handful of freshmen Democratic women with national security experience who helped flip Republican House of Representatives seats in 2018. She spent 20 years in the Marines, flying 89 combat missions.
She faces an uphill battle against McConnell, said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, which provides nonpartisan analysis of campaigns.
“McGrath was a long shot before the competitive primary and is a long shot now that it’s over,” Gonzalez said, noting that Beshear’s victory came in a three-way race in which a Libertarian Party candidate, John Hicks, also won votes.
Kentucky is a conservative state that voted for Trump by 30 percentage points in 2016.
Republicans’ majority of 53 to 47 seats in the U.S. Senate is looking increasingly vulnerable in the Nov. 3 election, according to political analysts.
McConnell campaign spokeswoman Kate Cooksey said in a statement that “Extreme Amy McGrath is lucky to have gotten out of the primary with a victory,” and called McGrath “just another tool of the Washington Democratic establishment who has no idea what matters most to Kentuckians.”
Elsewhere, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper shrugged off a series of campaign stumbles to win the state’s Democratic U.S. Senate nomination on Tuesday, beating a progressive challenger in a race vital to the party’s hopes of regaining Senate control in November.
Hickenlooper’s victory sets up a high-profile Nov. 3 showdown with conservative Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, considered one of the country’s most vulnerable incumbents and a top target for Democrats.
With more than three-quarters of precincts reporting, Hickenlooper led by nearly 20 percentage points over Andrew Romanoff, a former Colorado House speaker who had touted progressive priorities such as Medicare for All that were opposed by the more moderate Hickenlooper.
After his win, Hickenlooper made it clear in a video address to supporters that he would tie Gardner, who has been closely aligned with Republican President Donald Trump, directly to what he said were Trump’s failed policies.
“I’ve never lost an election in this state and I don’t intend to lose this one,” Hickenlooper said.
Colorado was one of three states, along with Utah and Oklahoma, to hold nominating contests on Tuesday. Colorado and Utah primarily vote by mail, minimizing the problems with in-person voting that marred other elections during the coronavirus outbreak.
Hickenlooper, recruited to run by national Democrats after his failed presidential campaign last year, had been expected to coast to victory in Colorado but he was beset down the stretch by ethical violations and campaign gaffes, raising some doubts.
He acknowledged he misspoke in late May when he said during a discussion of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that every life matters — a phrase criticized for dismissing racism against Black people. He also apologized after a six-year-old quip surfaced in which he compared a politician’s schedule to working on a slave ship.
Hickenlooper was fined $2,750 by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission on June 12 for violating state ethics laws by accepting free travel when he was governor. He initially defied a subpoena from the panel, testifying only after he was found in contempt.
Republicans said Hickenlooper’s late stumbles showed he would be vulnerable against Gardner.
“If watching him fall apart under pressure these last few weeks is any indication, ‘hot mess’ Hickenlooper is in for a very bumpy ride,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
In Colorado, U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, who had been endorsed by Trump, was upset in a Republican primary by gun rights activist Lauren Boebert. She runs a gun-themed restaurant and has spoken favorably about the pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon, which says “deep-state” traitors are plotting against the president.
Republicans were choosing challengers to run against U.S. Representatives Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Ben McAdams of Utah, two endangered Democrats who represent districts that Trump carried in 2016.
In Oklahoma, the winner will be determined in an Aug. 25 runoff as no candidate managed 50 percent of the vote. In Utah, former National Football League player Burgess Owens won the Republican primary to take on McAdams.
A ballot measure in Oklahoma to expand Medicaid, the government healthcare program for the poor and disabled, appeared to narrowly win despite the Republican governor’s arguments the state cannot afford it. With all precincts reporting, the expansion led by about 1 percentage point.
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