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Counter Points is written by WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson. In it, he shares insights on political news on the local, state and national level that impacts the 2020 election. Counter Points is delivered once a week on Wednesdays and will cease publication soon after the November election is decided.

McGrath Narrowly Wins Ky. Senate Primary To Face McConnell In November

amy mcgrath
Bryan Woolston

Following a week of waiting after polls closed on June 23, Amy McGrath has won the Kentucky Democratic Senate primary and will face Repulican Sen. Mitch McConnell in November. What was once seen as a forgone conclusion months ago turned into one of the country’s closest primaries.

State Rep. Charles Booker was almost able to overcome McGrath's massive fundraising pool, but narrowly fell short. McGrath won the state-wide primary with 45.1% of the vote and a margin of victory of only 2.1%.

Booker far surpassed expectations for his campaign, nearly defeating McGrath who had the support of the party and establishment Democrats like Chuck Schumer. However, in the last two weeks of the campaign, Booker gained endorsements from key progressive figures like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as the state’s largest newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal.

charles booker
Credit Bryan Woolston / AP

It all culminated in a nail-biting electoral process that resulted in a week of waiting because many counties – including the state's two largest, Jefferson and Fayette – only had one polling location, causing delays in tallies.

The 2020 primary was the first election where Kentucky allowed all voters to submit mail-in ballots, after orders from Gov. Andy Beshear to expand the mail-in process due to concerns over COVID-19. It resulted in a massive increase in voter turnout in the state. Over 525,000 Kentuckians voted in the Democratic primary this year, an increase of over 75,000 votes compared to the 2016 primary.

McGrath has leaned on moderate Democrats in the state, taking moderate stances on issues like Medicare for All, but has still pushed for reforms in immigration, student debt and firearm safety, among other issues. Booker often called McGrath a "Trump-supporting Democrat," marking the difference between her and his progressive campaign platform.

Despite her overall victory, McGrath lost handedly in Kentucky's urban centers. In Jefferson County, home to Booker's hometown of Louisville, McGrath grabbed only 35% of the vote. Even in Fayette County, where she narrowly lost the 2018 election for Kentucky's 6th Congressional District, McGrath still could not gain a plurality of votes. Booker won Jefferson and Fayette counties by a combined 36,000 votes, more than the total number of voters in any other individual county.

Northern Kentucky counties sided with McGrath, with her margin of victory in Kenton and Campbell counties at 20% and 18.2%, respectively. In Boone County, however, her margin of victory was only 3%.

McGrath will now face Senate Majority Leader McConnell on Nov. 3. McConnell, who has served as a Kentucky Senator since 1985, has already spent millions in negative campaign ads against McGrath. As the race ramps up over the remainder of the summer it is expected that this spending will only increase from both sides as an already unpopular McConnell fights to keep his seat.

mitch mcconnell
Credit J. Scott Applewhite / AP