Home Posts Charles Booker, A Progressive, Will Run For Senate In Kentucky Against Rand Paul.
Charles Booker, A Progressive, Will Run For Senate In Kentucky Against Rand Paul.
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Charles Booker, A Progressive, Will Run For Senate In Kentucky Against Rand Paul.


LOUISVILLE, KY. — Charles Booker had an announcement to make, but first he had to inform his "family."

So, on Sunday morning, the former Kentucky state representative grabbed a microphone and asked the 25 people in attendance at the church where his mother serves as assistant pastor to add him to their prayer list, despite the fact that he couldn't explain why.

“Every time I step out on faith to do what God has called me to do, I connect with you all first,” he told the parishioners at City of Refuge church as an organ hummed in the background. “God has given me this as a home, to prepare me and have folks around me who will love on me, so I’m here again, because this is gonna be a big week.”

The official announcement will be made on Thursday: Stardia can confirm that Booker, who narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) last year but emerged as a rising star in Kentucky politics, will formally launch his campaign to challenge Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky's other Republican senator, in 2022.

Democrats have not won a Senate race in Kentucky in three decades, and McConnell's resounding victory nine months ago will almost certainly cause the national party to prioritize just about every other contested Senate race — in Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida — as they try to protect and expand their majority. Paul, meanwhile, received 53% approval in Kentucky.

Booker is one of a growing number of Black Democratic Senate candidates, as a national campaign apparatus that once regarded such candidates as too risky to run in statewide elections becomes more open and diverse, particularly in the aftermath of Sen. Raphael Warnock's victory in Georgia earlier this year.

In a state that ranks among the nation's most downtrodden, the son of two ministers is attempting to spark a good old Bluegrass revival, one that will change the fortunes not only of a beleaguered Kentucky Democratic Party, but of a population that Booker claims has been ignored, stomped on, and told they aren't worth fig leaf.

“If we can persuade the people of Kentucky that things can be better and that we can achieve them, then we will,” Booker said, adding, “As soon as we believe we can win, we will.”

‘People Are Tired Of Being Tired,’ says one.

That revival, as he put it in a recent interview, will begin in the Kentucky region that gave birth to Charles Booker and catapulted him to late-rising stardom in the 2020 presidential election.

He will launch his campaign from the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, which sits on Muhammad Ali Boulevard in the heart of West Louisville, the mostly Black side of Kentucky's largest city that, in Booker's opinion, exemplifies the most basic theme of his campaign: that the status quo has failed Kentucky from end to end, and that fixing it will require dramatic changes.

“There is a real path to defeating Rand Paul,” Booker said, “but we won’t get there unless we do the work on issues of racism, poverty, and inequity that we haven’t done on the Democratic side.”

The police killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, in March 2020 forced Louisville — and the nation — to pay attention to at least some of the problems confronting Black communities, as well as the underlying issues. Massive protests engulfed the city for weeks last summer, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country.

His unabashedly progressive and populist message — Booker favors a Green New Deal-style approach to climate change, “Medicare for All” to expand access to health care, as well as a universal basic income and minimum wage increases — has already piqued the interest of a certain subset of primary voters.

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His willingness to speak frankly and urgently about racial justice and economic injustice nearly allowed him to upset an opponent who had outraised him 40-to-1 in fundraising.

Many people in Kentucky have “taken off their rose-colored glasses” as a result of the pandemic and protests, said Hannah Drake, a poet and racial justice activist in Louisville who supports Booker.

This time, Booker appears to be the favorite to win the Democratic nomination; his exploratory committee raised more than $500,000 in its first month, and no other major Kentucky Democrats have indicated a desire to run.

Last year's race, and everything that has followed, has shown Booker that change is both possible and urgent.

On the one hand, Booker notes that Kentucky responded to the protests by passing “Breonna’s Law,” a bill that severely limited the type of “no-knock warrants” obtained by police before raiding Taylor’s apartment. On the other hand, he points to Republican state legislatures that have targeted voting rights and basic democracy in a way that has largely targeted Black people, while Senate Democrats have not.

Issues affecting communities like mine affect everyone. If you look like me, you've probably been at the bottom, and when you're at the bottom, you see everything.

Booker T. Washington's

Running as an unwavering progressive may appear foolish, given that Kentucky does not resemble the states that have shifted toward Democrats in recent election cycles. The state's Black population (8.5%) is far smaller than that of Georgia or North Carolina, and its Latino population (4%) barely exists in comparison to states like Virginia, let alone Arizona and Texas.

For years, Democratic candidates, all of them white, have attempted to balance energizing their base with appealing to voters in the perceived center, usually with more emphasis on the latter and always with disastrous results: it's been more than a decade since a Democrat came within 10 points of winning a Senate seat in Kentucky.

Booker is looking into a different possible solution to the math problem that has plagued Democratic candidates in Kentucky. To win here, he says he needs to register and turn out every possible Democratic voter in the state. In that sense, West Louisville is a logical place to start.

The theory goes that if a Democratic candidate can't turn out every potential voter there, they don't stand a chance of solving the math problem at all. But Democrats have struggled to do so in the past because they took West Louisville and other areas like it for granted, according to Booker.

Kentucky's permanent denial of voting rights to people with felony convictions also disenfranchises roughly 15% of its Black voting-age population; a 2019 executive order restored voting rights to nearly 200,000 people, but many have yet to re-register and many more remain disenfranchised; engaging those voters could provide another boost to Booker's strategy.

“People may be inclined to vote Democrat, but we don’t go talk to them,” Booker said during an interview in Injustice Square, a downtown Louisville park that served as a memorial to Taylor and a starting point for the protests that followed her death. “We just expect them to vote the way we think they will.”

This not only results in a lack of votes, but it also perpetuates the issues that those communities are dealing with.

Republicans weaponize [race], Democrats avoid it, and as a result, the problems go unaddressed,” he explained.

A Black candidate in a predominantly white state like Kentucky has the ability to demonstrate “that the issues that affect communities like mine affect everybody,” Booker said. “There is a truth that if you look like me, there’s a good chance you’ve been at the bottom, and when you’re at the bottom, you see everything.”

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'From the Hood to the Holler,'

Booker is not a political outsider in the traditional sense: he has spent the majority of his professional career in government and politics. However, in a state where neither major party has nominated a Black candidate for Senate, he is "a Black kid from 35th and Market" streets in the heart of West Louisville who, as a diabetic, had to ration insulin when he was younger.

He now lives in Russell, a historic but neglected neighborhood that was at the heart of last summer's protests, with his wife and two daughters — with a third on the way. The house that prompted the warrant that led to Taylor's killing is in a part of Russell slated for gentrification, and national guardsmen shot and killed David McAtee, a popular local BBQ vendor, in the neighborhood during the protests.

As he drove through West Louisville last weekend in a red Ford sedan, Booker pointed to a memorial to McAtee that lines a chain-link fence at the site. A few minutes later, he spotted a dilapidated building with the windows boarded up: “Ali boxed there as a kid,” he said.

Russell is now one of the poorest areas in Kentucky, one of the poorest states in the country, with a median household income of roughly $17,000, roughly one-third of the citywide total, according to 2018 data from the University of Louisville, and only 4% of its 10,000 residents, 89% of whom are Black, have a college degree, and more than half live below the poverty line.

West Louisville as a whole has far lower rates of high school graduation and median incomes than the state and national averages; unemployment, food stamp use, and other indicators of poor economic and health fortunes are typically much higher; and environmental problems, particularly pollution from factories, are rampant: the air in West Louisville is more toxic than in any other U.S. city of comparable size, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Early in his 2020 campaign, Booker settled on a mantra: he wanted to bring Kentuckians “from the ’hood to the holler,” to bring together Black Kentuckians from neighborhoods like Russell and (mostly) white folks from the Appalachian mountains in eastern Kentucky to realize that most of their problems — and most of the causes — are the same.

He is a contrarian; he never seeks to do anything, and he has no regard for people.

On Sen. Rand Paul, Charles Booker

Kentucky's mountain economy cratered with the steady collapse of the coal industry, and the tolls of poverty, environmental devastation, and opioids were all devastating epidemics of sorts before the coronavirus pandemic began. Booker hopes that his up-close view of the politics of neglect in his own community will help him connect with voters in Kentucky's rural and mountain areas, and convinc

“There’s an opportunity to talk about the common challenges that people face. That’s a way to bring us together,” Booker said. “That, to me, is another reason why we need someone who understands the struggle in the Black community, as well as someone who deeply cares about and is in tune with the struggles that we see across Kentucky. Because we can’t really get the healing that we want to see as a state.

Much of Appalachia is home to ancestral Democratic communities that have deserted the party in droves. In 2016, Elliott County, America's most reliably Democratic county, voted for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since its founding in 1872. Many of these areas still vote for Democrats on occasion: Gov. Andy Beshear did well in the mountains' traditionally blue areas in 2016.

While some Democrats take their strongholds in Kentucky for granted, Booker claims that they have also "conceded" rural areas of the state to the GOP: "We haven't done the type of organizing and engagement with folks beyond asking them to vote," he says. "We don't ask folks what's important to them. We don't mobilize actions to address those concerns."

“When people look at the government, they don’t see an institution that’s going to do anything for them other than exploit, dismiss, rob, and make life harder for them,” Booker said of residents in both West Louisville and Appalachia. The Green New Deal and other ambitious policies Booker has backed are his pitch to those voters that the government “needs to make the investments to atomise climate change.”

In A Deeply Red State, a Conservative Opponent

According to Booker, Paul exemplifies the issue.

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In 2010, he ran as a libertarian outsider who was vehemently opposed to the Bush-era GOP and big government, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position he has since tried to justify.

In 2010, he ran as a libertarian outsider who was vehemently opposed to the Bush-era GOP and big government, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position he has since tried to justify..This resonated in a state dominated by social conservatism, even if it clashed with Kentucky's economic reliance on government assistance.

In 2010, he ran as a libertarian outsider who was vehemently opposed to the Bush-era GOP and big government, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position he has since tried to justify..This resonated in a state dominated by social conservatism, even if it clashed with Kentucky's economic reliance on government assistance..Over the last four years, Paul has morphed into an all-out Trump fanatic, willing to peddle lies and conspiracies about last year's election and wage an odd war on Dr.

In 2010, he ran as a libertarian outsider who was vehemently opposed to the Bush-era GOP and big government, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position he has since tried to justify..This resonated in a state dominated by social conservatism, even if it clashed with Kentucky's economic reliance on government assistance..Over the last four years, Paul has morphed into an all-out Trump fanatic, willing to peddle lies and conspiracies about last year's election and wage an odd war on Dr..Anthony Fauci's position on COVID-19 policies and vaccines

In 2010, he ran as a libertarian outsider who was vehemently opposed to the Bush-era GOP and big government, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position he has since tried to justify..This resonated in a state dominated by social conservatism, even if it clashed with Kentucky's economic reliance on government assistance..Over the last four years, Paul has morphed into an all-out Trump fanatic, willing to peddle lies and conspiracies about last year's election and wage an odd war on Dr..Anthony Fauci's position on COVID-19 policies and vaccines.Paul has stated that he will not be vaccinated, and as Booker pointed out, he also voted against President Joe Biden's pandemic relief package, which provided millions of dollars in benefits to Kentuckians and as much as $4 billion to the federal government.

In 2010, he ran as a libertarian outsider who was vehemently opposed to the Bush-era GOP and big government, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position he has since tried to justify..This resonated in a state dominated by social conservatism, even if it clashed with Kentucky's economic reliance on government assistance..Over the last four years, Paul has morphed into an all-out Trump fanatic, willing to peddle lies and conspiracies about last year's election and wage an odd war on Dr..Anthony Fauci's position on COVID-19 policies and vaccines.Paul has stated that he will not be vaccinated, and as Booker pointed out, he also voted against President Joe Biden's pandemic relief package, which provided millions of dollars in benefits to Kentuckians and as much as $4 billion to the federal government..State and local governments in the Commonwealth will receive $2 billion in new funding.

In 2010, he ran as a libertarian outsider who was vehemently opposed to the Bush-era GOP and big government, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position he has since tried to justify..This resonated in a state dominated by social conservatism, even if it clashed with Kentucky's economic reliance on government assistance..Over the last four years, Paul has morphed into an all-out Trump fanatic, willing to peddle lies and conspiracies about last year's election and wage an odd war on Dr..Anthony Fauci's position on COVID-19 policies and vaccines.Paul has stated that he will not be vaccinated, and as Booker pointed out, he also voted against President Joe Biden's pandemic relief package, which provided millions of dollars in benefits to Kentuckians and as much as $4 billion to the federal government..State and local governments in the Commonwealth will receive $2 billion in new funding.. 

Paul's libertarian streak still drives him to deviate from party orthodoxy on occasion. Last year, he introduced the federal version of "Breonna's Law" to prohibit no-knock warrants. He has also criticized the hypermilitarization of local police departments and advocated for making it easier to fire abusive officers. To Booker, Paul is no different than the rest of the lawmakers who have pandered to the police.

“He’s a contrarian, he never looks to do anything,” Booker explained. “Every now and then, he’ll say something like, ‘OK, well, I understand that,’ but what are you actually going to do? And that’s when he disappears.”

Later, Booker added, "He doesn't care about people."

“Hood to the holler” is more than a slogan, according to Booker, who marched alongside miners in 2019 as they fought Blackjewel Coal’s refusal to pay them after the company filed for bankruptcy; and last year, as racial justice marches swept the country, he marched alongside demonstrators in Whitesburg, an Appalachian town in a county that is 98% white.

The nonprofit organization he founded in the aftermath of his primary loss has held training sessions for organizers and campaign workers, and has attempted to build on his prior campaign's efforts to connect Kentucky's urban centers to its rural populations. After historic floods hit southeastern Kentucky this spring, Booker said, the organization rallied volunteers, many of whom were from West Louisville, to raise funds.

Still, if Booker is to be elected, the type of change he talks about will have to happen quickly. From the mountains to the western coalfields, Kentucky’s rural counties only turned a deeper shade of red in 2020, as Trump helped Republicans solidify supermajorities in the state legislature.

So, why is Booker so confident he can win? The short answer is that sanctuary in downtown Louisville, where his mother is the assistant pastor and his church family cheered for an announcement he didn't quite make but that they understood all the same.

“We’ve faced so many impossible times, and without faith, those impossible times would just crush you,” he said. “Faith and hope and trust in God is like that fuel, and that sense of protection, that will help you see impossible times as things you can overcome. And so now, with cynicism, doubt, and hopelessness at all-time highs, we must embrace faith as a way to not just weather, but to change it.

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