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Rand Paul, Charles Booker secure nominations for Kentucky U.S. Senate race

U.S. Senator Rand Paul will defend his seat against former state Rep. Charles Booker in the General Election, after initial results showed both candidates defeating several little-known challengers during Kentucky’s primary elections on Tuesday.

Booker is the first Black Democratic nominee in a federal election in Kentucky. During a speech Tuesday night, he said the victory is more than historic.

"If anybody tells you change is not possible. If anybody tells you the ceilings can't break. Tell them look at Kentucky. Tell them, look at us," Booker said.

The Associated Press called the race minutes after polls closed in the western part of the state.

Paul secured the nomination for his third six-year term over five opponents, none of whom ran very high-profile campaigns.

He issued a statement by video on Tuesday night, thanking Republicans for nominating him for third term.

"As I do most weeks, I’m here in DC battling the socialists and petty tyrants. Kentucky and all of America deserve better than the massive spending, runaway debt and crippling inflation that Biden, Pelosi and Schumer are giving us. I’m working every day to fight back, and I hope you’ll continue to support me and vote them out this fall," Paul said.

Booker defeated three other Democrats in the primary, none of whom campaigned extensively.

Booker first ran for Senate in 2020 and surged to prominence amid racial justice protests, but lost the Democratic nomination to retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath. McGrath later lost to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in the general election by almost 20 percentage points.

November’s election is set to be a contest of stark opposites in a state strongly veering towards the GOP. Paul’s libertarian-leaning stance of limited government and less spending will be pitted against. Booker’s progressive policy platform he dubs the “Kentucky New Deal.” A large part of his campaign has focused on his “Hood to the Holler” effort aiming to build an urban-rural coalition.

Paul has overwhelmingly outraised Booker. The incumbent Republican’s campaign haul totals $18.5 million, while Booker raised just about $3.3 million over the past year. Paul enters the  General Election campaign with $8.6 million cash on hand, while Booker’s has a little over $470,000. 

Two major Republican PACs have already entered the campaign fray. Kentucky Freedom PAC has spent $125,000, while Senate Conservatives Fund spent $135,000 supporting Paul and criticizing Booker. The only major spending by a Democratic PAC came from Move On, which spent over $150,000 on ads against Paul.

Booker has stiff headwinds going into the General Election. Kentucky hasn’t sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1992.

This story has been updated.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.