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Charles Booker Gains Momentum As Primary Approaches

The morning after Louisville restaurateur David McAtee was shot and killed by National Guard member, his body laid outside, for almost 14 hours, while police investigated.

Hundreds gathered nearby, many horrified that the body was still there. Charles Booker spoke through a megaphone, urging people to be calm and not run across the street as officials prepared to remove the body from the scene.

“If you rush over there, I’m going to run with you. But if you rush over there, it’s going to get worse," Booker said.

Booker is a freshman state representative. He’s 35 years old and has lived in west Louisville his whole life.

“All my family’s from down here. Y’all are my family. I would jump in front of them for y’all, I don’t care," Booker said.

Though he’s only been in the legislature for about a year and a half, Booker has been a voice for people frustrated with racism and injustice.

And he’s spoken out about it, like last year, when Paducah Republican Rep. Randy Bridges yelled at Booker to "sit down" during a debate on the House Floor.

Shortly after, Booker said the incident showed "just how real and present racism and supremacy are in our lives."

Then a couple months later at an event in Paducah before the annual Fancy Farm political event, Booker said the incident reminded him of other times in history people were told to sit down.

“I thought about my grandad, who fought to desegregate his job back in Louisville. I thought about Kentuckians like you all that never sit down, that never give up, that fight every day. And I said you know what, I cannot sit down," Booker said.

Booker has been running for Senate since January. By then, there was already a high profile candidate in the Democratic race to take on Mitch McConnell — Amy McGrath, the retired Marine fighter pilot who has gotten national attention and raised millions of dollars.

Lincoln County farmer and retired Marine Mike Broihier had also entered the race, running to the left of McGrath.

Throughout the race, McGrath sucked up most of the funding and attention in the Democratic Primary...that is until a couple weeks ago, when protesters in Louisville took to the streets to protest the police killing of Breonna Taylor. And Booker joined them.

“This was a very horrific incident, inexplicable and the fact that it happened months ago and no one really knew these details means that there’s a lot of apologies that need to be rendered," Booker said before a Black Lives Matter rally on May 31.

Because of his near-constant presence during the protests, Booker become familiar to a lot of people who didn’t know him before, like Lynn Berry, who heard him speak after McAtee’s death.

“I love politics, I’m real woke to politics. I had not paid enough attention to him as of yet," Berry said.

"He is catching my attention. It matters to me that he’s present, so that goes a long way.”

The question remains if Booker has built up the name recognition and support across the state to overcome McGrath, who has been campaigning for nearly a year and ran a high-profile race for Congress in 2018, which she lost.

Last month, Booker was endorsed by 16 Democratic members in the state House of Representatives, including House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins. He also received endorsements this week from the state's two largest newspapers.

And many progressive voters have become dissatisfied with McGrath. She initially said she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, then retracted it. She’s also said she would work with President Donald Trump on some issues.

Booker is betting on those voters showing up for him. In a recent ad, he went after McGrath, suggesting that she’d just help Trump get his way.

Democrats running statewide elections in increasingly-Republican Kentucky usually worry about straying too far from the center.

But policy-wise, Booker is a progressive. He supports Medicare For All, the Green New Deal and universal basic income. In the legislature he’s fought for gun safety, criminal justice reform and abortion rights.

Democratic voters can weigh in during the June 23rd primary election either by mail-in ballot, or with limited in-person voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. There are 10 Democrats vying for the nomination.

Eleanor Klibanoff contributed to this report.

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