Charles Booker, a progressive and former member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, officially filed campaign paperwork to run against Republican Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday, vowing to win against the right-wing libertarian in the 2022 election.
“Today, I formally filed my candidate paperwork,” Booker wrote on Twitter. “Now that it’s official, allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Charles Booker, and I am running for United States Senate to finally defeat Rand Paul. It’s on.”
Booker has hinted at this campaign for months, and in April launched an exploratory committee to look into the possibility of running. The Kentucky progressive rose to fame during the 2020 election, when he ran against conservative Democrat Amy McGrath in the party’s challenge to now-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. After the Democratic Party machine aligned its money and power behind McGrath, Booker lost by 3 points; McGrath, in turn, was walloped in the general election, losing to McConnell by nearly 20 points.
Booker is running on a platform similar to that of his 2020 run, highlighting racial justice and calling for lowering prescription drug prices, Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, which he says could help bridge the gap between rural and urban citizens — an objective that he says Democrats have overlooked. Throughout his campaign, he will be focusing “on our common bonds,” Booker told reporters on Wednesday.
“When I stood on the tracks with miners, they talked to me about sustainable energy. When I stood with teachers in western Kentucky, they told me how they want to fully and equitably fund public schools. When I speak to farmers, they’re understanding that climate change is real,” he said.
Earlier this year, Booker launched a nonprofit called Hood to the Holler in hopes of mobilizing voters across the state. “It’s realizing that people are the most important aspect of democracy, it’s realizing that the voices of people in the forgotten places — the hood where I am from and the hollers in Appalachia and everywhere in between — that those voices are the pathway to a brighter future,” he said in an interview earlier this year.
Though Booker has been deemed a leading candidate for the race, he faces an uphill battle. Polling earlier this year found that Paul has decent chances of winning his reelection, with 53 percent of voters saying that they approved of his performance. 47 percent of respondents said they’d vote for him if the election were held at the time of the poll, and only 41 percent said they’d vote for a Democrat instead.
Democratic establishment figures are already casting doubt on his prospects, saying that a progressive couldn’t possibly win in Kentucky.
“He won’t break 40 percent,” former Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “You’re misreading the Kentucky electorate if you’re thinking running as a progressive will win.” But McGrath, who progressives said badly misread the electorate during her run, was supposed to be a shoo-in against McConnell — and she didn’t break 40 percent of the vote, either.
Booker is optimistic that his approach of speaking to all potential voters — people who voted for Trump, low-income white populations and Black communities alike — will help him win. “It really requires the audacity to say, ‘OK, I’m a young Black guy from the hood, but I’m going to go into the hills in Appalachia and say, ‘Hey, our lives matter. I’m rationing my insulin. Or I’ve had to do that. You’ve had to do that.’ Let’s fight together,” he told the Daily Beast this week.
Unseating Paul would be significant for Democrats in the state, which hasn’t had a Democratic senator since 1999. Paul is a contentious figure in the Senate; throughout the pandemic, he has spread baseless conspiracy theories about COVID-19 treatments, disseminating lies so egregious that he’s gotten banned from YouTube.
Paul has also been a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, especially as false claims about the veracity of the 2020 election gained traction among Republicans. In January, he attempted to block Trump’s second impeachment trial by falsely claiming that it was unconstitutional. He’s also admitted to coordinating with Republican state lawmakers to pass voter suppression bills earlier this year.