WASHINGTON - Elections are set for three U.S. states on Tuesday, with the focus on a Senate Democratic primary contest in the mid-south state of Kentucky to take on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November and a tough Democratic primary challenge 31-year congressman Eliot Engel is facing in New York.
In Kentucky, former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath appeared to be on a glide path to a Senate election bid against McConnell, raising $41 million in campaign funds and winning endorsements from key national Democratic figures to try to unseat the six-term lawmaker who often thwarts their legislative agenda.
But now the 45-year-old McGrath, who narrowly lost a 2018 bid for a seat in the House of Representatives, suddenly finds herself in a too-close-to-call Democratic party primary against Charles Booker, a 35-year-old state lawmaker who has captured the endorsement of key newspapers in the state and national progressive Democrats wary of the more centrist McGrath.
Booker, an African American, has raised less than $4 million in campaign funds, but has struck a chord with voters angered at police treatment of blacks.
While national attention has focused on the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, spawning coast-to-coast protests over the last month, the focus in Kentucky has been on the March police shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African American emergency medical technician.
Taylor was killed by police in Kentucky’s biggest city, Louisville, executing a no-knock search warrant for drugs at her apartment. But police had the wrong address and no drugs were found.
On the campaign trail, Booker has worn a T-shirt saying, “No More No Knocks.” At one stop, he told voters, “I’m traveling Kentucky talking about structural racism and I’m seeing folks, even 99% white, putting their fists in the air because they know that we can’t let this moment pass.”
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer was an early supporter of McGrath, but more recently such progressive Democrats as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have weighed in for Booker, leaving Tuesday’s outcome in doubt.
Whoever wins, however, faces a tough contest against the 78-year-old McConnell, a fixture in Kentucky and the Washington power structure. McConnell has been a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump’s legislative proposals and his appointment of conservative judges. Moreover, the president is popular in Kentucky, which he won by about 30 percentage points in 2016.
In New York
In Tuesday’s other key race, the 73-year-old Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is also facing a late challenge from another African American candidate, Jamaal Bowman, a 44-year-old middle school principal who had never run for office before.
Much like Booker in Kentucky, Bowman is advancing more leftist policies than Engel, hoping to unseat the 16-term congressman. Engel has the endorsements of key Washington figures, including Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost the 2016 election to Trump.
But New York progressives have lined up behind Bowman, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who herself won an upset primary election victory against an entrenched New York congressman in 2018.
Further north in New York state, in a normally solid Republican congressional district, Democrat Nate McMurray and Republican Chris Jacobs are vying to finish the last half year of the two-year term vacated when Republican Chris Collins resigned as he pleaded guilty to federal insider stock trading charges. No matter who wins, McMurray and Jacobs are likely to face each other again in November for a full two-year House term.
There also are party primaries for six congressional seats in Kentucky and another 26 House primaries in New York besides the Engel-Bowman race.
In the mid-Atlantic state of Virginia, there are seven party primaries for House seats, along with a Republican party primary for the Senate nomination to face two-term incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Warner in the November election.
The three Republicans vying to face Warner are civics teacher Alissa Baldwin, Army intelligence officer Thomas Speciale and Daniel Gade, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who lost his right leg in a 2004 firefight in Iraq and now is a professor at American University in Washington.