Charles Booker-- From The ’Hood To The Holler... To The Senate
This morning, Charles Booker officially announced his candidacy for the Kentucky Senate seat held by crackpot Rand Paul. Travis Waldron noted that "Booker has heard plenty about all the reasons he can’t win, and all the ways he won’t. In a state that ranks among the nation’s most downtrodden, the son of two ministers is setting out to spark a good old Bluegrass revival, one that alters the fortunes not just of a beleaguered Kentucky Democratic Party, but of a population Booker says has been ignored, stomped on, and told they weren’t worth fighting for for far too long."
Last time Booker ran, he never managed to get to the real battle (against McConnell) because Chuck Schumer had his heart set on a pointless "centrist" who had bent her knee to him, Amy McGrath, whose campaign Schumer flooded with cash, while sabotaging Booker. She spent 40 times more than he did! Both the state's two big newspapers, the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader, endorsed Booker. Outspent beyond belief Booker nearly beat her anyway-- and probably would have had not another progressive, Mike Broihier, stayed in the race. The final primary tally:
Amy McGrath- 247,037 (45.41%)
Charles Booker- 231,888 (42.62%)
Mike Broihier- 27,175 (4.99%)
In the general election, McGrath ran a typical uninspiring DSCC-controlled "lesser-of-two-evils" campaign that impressed no one (other than Ann Coulter, who endorsed her) and was buried by the greatest evil of all-- 1,233,315 (57.76%) to 816,257 938.23%), after demoralizing the Democratic base.
This time, it appears that Schumer will just ignore Kentucky and let Booker do whatever he does. That's actually a good thing because progressives always do well when the DSCC stays out of primaries. Please consider contributing to Booker's campaign today-- on day one-- by clicking on the Blue America 2022 Senate thermometer on the left. You'd never hear anything like this from Schumer, but it is what Booker said today about his chances of winning: "There is a real path to beating Rand Paul but we won’t do without doing that work in addressing issues of racism, and poverty and inequity-- which, on the Democratic side, we haven’t done... If we can encourage the people of Kentucky to believe that things can be better, and that we can achieve them, then we will. As soon as we believe we can win, we will."
You know who believes Booker can win? Erica Smith, the progressive candidate running for the Senate in North Carolina. "From the hood to the holler, people of all genders, religions, races, and creeds, are caught in a rigged economy, a broken healthcare system, and a corrupt political system. Charles Booker," she told me this morning, "is running not just to change that, but to transform our politics. From the hood to the holler is an affirmation of our collective humanity. When you have to make the choice between rationing insulin and feeding your kids, it shouldn’t matter if you’re in a project or a trailer. From the hood to the holler, life expectancy and wages are too low and unemployment and carbon emissions are too high and we need to come together to do something about it. To take care of ourselves, we need to take care of each other. Charles knows that we are connected by the air we breathe, the communities we live in, the anxieties that keep us up at night, and the dreams we have for our children when at long last we’re able to fall asleep. I look forward to serving in the U.S. Senate with Charles and creating a future where government works for all of us, and we are all free."
The progressive candidate running for the Florida Senate seat occupied by Marco Rubio, Alan Grayson, is an admirer of what Booker is trying to do. "Charles Booker," he told me this afternoon, "is what the Democratic Party really needs: a WYSIWYG candidate-- What You See is What You Get. Forget about the fighter pilots, and the astronauts, and the police officers. I want to elect a Democrat for what he’s going to do, for all of us: Medicare for All, real action against climate deterioration, a 'justice system' with justice for all, and jobs that pay enough for workers to survive. Charles Booker is the candidate for those of us who recognize that We’re All In This Together."
The Sunrise Movement has been one of the biggest supporters of Booker's crusade. Today Evan Weber, the group's co-founder and political director told me that they "stood with Charles out the gate in 2020 because we saw that Kentuckians were ready for change, and that’s why our local hubs and our national movement is standing with Charles on Day 1 as he takes on Rand Paul as well. Charles’ vision for a Kentucky New Deal, ending generational poverty, and combatting structural racism can unite Kentuckians from the hood to the holler, expand Democrats’ Senate majority, and transform American politics forever."
Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd, running for the Maryland Senate seat couldn't be more enthusiastic either. "Rand Paul has to be replaced, and Charles Booker is a great pick to do it," he said. "For the most part, Rand Paul’s about shrinking the size of government. He’s about the politics of less. What that means, in practice, is that he’s about less health care, less drug addiction services, less help for people living in poverty, and less help for those in danger of losing their homes. But there are some troubling exceptions to his focus on the politics of less. For example, he’s about more government control over women’s personal healthcare choices, and he’s about more government control over who gets married. And he’s about more police brutality. On the other hand, Charles Booker is a champion of Medicare for all and of poor and working class people, and he supports more federal resources for fighting drug addiction. Charles Booker is also about combating racism and combating police brutality. We definitely shouldn’t forget that, while Rand Paul was busy watering down police reform legislation and calling Black Lives Matter a terrorist mob, Charles Booker was standing with activists in Louisville to protest the killing of Breonna Taylor and grieve her loss."
State Senator Chris Larson is the progressive running for the Wisconsin Senate seat occupied by Trump puppet Ron Johnson. He's eager to work with other progressives like Booker in the Senate starting in 2023. "I'm thrilled to see the momentum of Charles Booker and his movement continue in Kentucky. His voice is badly needed in the U.S. Senate so America can stem inequality at its source and unrig the system that keeps too many of our neighbors in poverty. I look forward to working with Charles to heed the urgent call to tackle climate change in everything we do through a Green New Deal, guarantee health care is treated as a right and not a product by passing Medicare for All, and dismantling the structures of racism and inequity. Charles," he said today, "is the man for the moment."
Waldron, who spent time interviewing Booker before this morning's announcement, gave a thorough look at the campaign's strategy. It's very much worth reading:
Running as an unflinching progressive may seem like folly, given that Kentucky doesn’t look much like the places that have shifted toward Democrats in recent election cycles. The state’s Black population (8.5%) is far smaller than those of Georgia or North Carolina. Its Latino population (4%) barely exists compared to states like Virginia, to say nothing of Arizona and Texas. Its major population centers, Louisville and Lexington, are Democratic bastions but aren’t big enough to swing the entire state, and its suburban shifts don’t appear quite as durable as they have been elsewhere.
Democratic candidates, all of them white, have for years tried to perform the delicate dance of energizing their base while also appealing to voters in the perceived center, usually with more emphasis on the latter and always with disastrous results: It’s been more than a decade now since a Democrat came within 10 points of winning a Senate seat in Kentucky.
Booker is exploring a different possible solution to the math problem that plagues Democratic candidates in Kentucky. To win here, he said, he needs to register and turn out every possible Democratic voter in the state. In that sense, West Louisville is a logical place to start. The city’s Black neighborhoods have historically been among the most reliable sources of Democratic strength, but as in other areas of Kentucky with sizable Black populations, they are also home to precincts where turnout often lags city and statewide averages.
If a Democratic candidate can’t turn out every potential voter there, they don’t have much hope of solving that math problem at all, the theory goes. But Democrats have struggled to do that in the past because they have taken West Louisville and other areas like it for granted, Booker argues.
Kentucky’s permanent stripping of voting rights for people with felony convictions also disenfranchises roughly 15% of its Black voting age population; a 2019 executive order restored voting rights to nearly 200,000 people, but many have not yet re-registered and many more remain disenfranchised. Engaging those voters could provide another boost to Booker’s strategy.
“Folks may be inclined to vote Democrat, but we don’t go talk to them,” Booker said during an interview in Injustice Square, a downtown Louisville park that served as a memorial to Taylor and a starting point for the protests her killing inspired. “We just expect that they’re going to vote the way we think they will.”
That doesn’t just lead to a lack of votes, it also perpetuates the problems those communities face.
“Republicans weaponize [race], Democrats run away from it, which means the problems don’t get addressed,” he said.
A Black candidate in a largely white state like Kentucky has the power to show “that the issues that affect communities like mine affect everybody,” Booker said. “There is a truth that if you look like me, there’s a good chance that you’ve been at the bottom. And when you’re at the bottom, you see everything.”
...Early in his 2020 campaign, Booker settled on a mantra: He wanted to unite Kentuckians “from the ’hood to the holler,” to bring together Black Kentuckians from neighborhoods like Russell and (mostly) white folks from the hollers of the Appalachian mountains in eastern Kentucky to realize that most of their problems are the same-- and most of the causes are, too.
Kentucky’s mountain economy cratered with the steady collapse of the coal industry, and the toll of poverty, environmental devastation and opioids were all devastating epidemics, of sorts, before the coronavirus pandemic began. Booker’s hope is that his up-close view of the politics of neglect in his own community can help him connect with voters in Kentucky’s rural and mountain areas, and convince them that they have more in common than they may think. He also believes it will allow him to avoid shying away from racial inequities in a contest where he needs to attract support from white rural voters.
“There’s an opportunity to talk about the challenges that people face that are common. That’s a way to bring us together,” Booker said. “That, to me, is another reason why we need someone that understands the struggle in the Black community, and that also deeply cares about and is in tune with the struggles that we see across Kentucky. Because we can’t really get the healing that we want to see as a commonwealth without doing both.”
Much of Appalachia is home to ancestral Democratic communities that have abandoned the party in droves. In 2016, Elliott County, the most reliably Democratic county in America, voted for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since its founding in 1872. Many of these areas still vote for Democrats on occasion: Gov. Andy Beshear did well in the mountains’ traditionally blue areas in 2019. But in federal races, even getting them back within the margin necessary to pull off a statewide win will prove a difficult task. Paul overwhelmingly won all but two counties in Appalachia on his way to reelection in 2016, albeit with Donald Trump providing a boost from atop the ballot.
While some Democrats take their strongholds in Kentucky for granted, Booker said, they have also “conceded” rural areas of the state to the GOP: “We haven’t done the type of organizing and engagement with folks beyond asking them to vote,” he said. “We don’t ask folks what’s important to them. We don’t mobilize actions to address those concerns.”
“When people look at the government, they don’t see an institution that’s going to do anything for them besides exploit them, dismiss them, rob them, and make life harder for them,” Booker said of residents in both West Louisville and Appalachia. The Green New Deal and other ambitious policies Booker has backed are his pitch to those voters that the government “needs to make the investments to atone for the problems it has caused.”