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Rand Paul defeats Charles Booker, securing third term in U.S. Senate

Rand Paul Fancy Farm 2016
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul assailed Jim Gray, his Democratic opponent, at this year's Fancy Farm.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Rand Paul defeated his Democratic opponent Charles Booker and will head back to Washington, D.C. for a third six-year term, according to initial returns.

The Associated Press called the race at 7:14 with 5% of the vote counted and Paul leading Booker by 6,000 votes.

Throughout the campaign, the candidates portrayed themselves as ideological opposites – Booker is a progressive Democrat who focused on issues like the urban-rural divide, racial justice and energy transition policies. Paul has emerged as one of the foremost critics of the prevailing science of the coronavirus pandemic, and depicted Booker as a candidate who wants to “defund the police.”

Since taking office in 2011, Paul has burnished his credentials by taking libertarian stances on issues like taxes, foreign policy and aid.

Paul was first elected riding the Tea Party wave in 2010, was reelected in 2016 and also garnered national attention that led to a failed presidential run that year.

Booker is the first Black nominee for U.S. Senate in Kentucky history. He 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.

Booker accused Paul of using dog whistles–using coded language to highlight Booker’s race. Paul also refused to debate Booker, declining the one scheduled debate on KET, the state’s public news television network. 

Paul easily won the fundraising battle. His  campaign war chest stood at $26 million, while Booker’s was $5.8 million, according to campaign filings.

With the exception of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, Republicans have dominated statewide elections in Kentucky in recent years. The state hasn’t sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1992.

Divya is LPM's Capitol Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.