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Racial Justice Activist Charles Booker Launches Exploration to Unseat Rand Paul

Last year, the former state lawmaker lost narrowly to centrist Amy McGrath in Democrats’ bid against Mitch McConnell.

Then-Kentucky State Rep. Charles Booker speaks during a protest against racism and police brutality on August 28, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Charles Booker announced on Monday that he is launching an exploratory committee looking into challenging Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul. Booker is a former state representative from Louisville and previously ran against fellow Democrat Amy McGrath in the party’s failed 2020 challenge against Sen. Mitch McConnell.

“Kentuckians deserve a senator who will fight as hard for us as we fight for each other, and that’s why I’m formally announcing an exploratory committee for U.S. Senate,” Booker said in a statement. “We can, we will and we must build a future that works for all of us instead of just for a wealthy few.”

Booker is a progressive candidate who faced what the media deemed extraordinary odds in 2020 when running against McGrath, a centrist Democrat. He ended up losing to McGrath in the senatorial primary in June of 2020 by only two points. He ran on progressive proposals like Medicare for All and advocated for Black lives. The formation of an exploratory committee allows Booker to conduct polls, travel around the state and fundraise.

“They called us a long shot, said the movement in Kentucky was impossible,” said Booker in a video attached to Monday’s announcement. “But man, we proved them wrong. As we made our stand together, I could not have imagined the new world we were about to step into.”

“While Kentuckians lost their livelihoods and homes, a handful of privileged politicians chose to continue criminalizing poverty,” Booker said as the video showed pictures of McConnell and Paul.

“While our loved ones were brutalized, they chose to do nothing,” he narrated as the video displayed a headline highlighting Paul’s 2020 opposition to the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. Paul was the only senator in the chamber opposed to the bill, which would expand punishments for lynching and establish it as a hate crime. Even though it had strong backing, Paul was able to block the bill for so long that it never got a vote in the Senate.

The video also highlights Republicans’ recent voter suppression efforts, some of which are aimed squarely at Black voters.

Despite politicians like Paul and McConnell, however, Booker imparts optimism in the video announcing his exploratory bid for the Senate, saying that, “The movement chose to blossom,” in a reference to the Black Lives Matter uprisings of last year. During Kentucky’s uprisings after the police killed Breonna Taylor in Booker’s hometown of Louisville, Booker gained attention speaking at protests and advocating for the movement.

Now, Booker has said that he wants to unite Democrats as part of a “new southern strategy” to fight racism, poverty and the climate crisis. “Our next move is one we must make together,” he said and emphasized his support of proposals like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. He wants Kentuckians to “come together united, from the hood to the holler, Black, white, brown, to live in a commonwealth where everyone can thrive.”

Booker launched Hood to the Holler, a voter mobilization organization looking to create what he called “a people centered movement to build political power and transform our future,” which bolstered his campaign last year. The organization looks to build political power around progressive and populist ideals among voters of all races and incomes.

Though McGrath lost to McConnell last year by nearly 20 points, Booker is confident in his announcement that the progressive movement is gaining power. Indeed, proposals like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All are popular among the public. And though he ultimately lost to McGrath, Booker had polled well prior to the election.

During his 2020 run, he gained the endorsement of prominent progressive lawmakers like Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts). Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) also expressed enthusiasm for Booker’s announcement on Monday. “Let’s go!” he tweeted.

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