U.S. Senate Democratic primary candidates reflect on campaign during pandemic


LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The 2020 campaign season drastically changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s still unclear how it might impact the general election in November.

Before the pandemic, most observers predicted Kentucky’s Democratic U.S. Senate Primary would be a landslide for Amy McGrath, setting up a showdown in the November general election with Republican Senate Majority Leader and long-time incumbent Mitch McConnell.

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But the pandemic, racial justice protests and a variety of other factors have allowed progressives Mike Broihier and Rep. Charles Booker, D-Louisville, an opportunity to carve out their own spot near the top of the 10-person Democratic field.

The recent surge of the Black Lives Matter move and endorsements from the likes of former Democratic presidential front-runner and leading progressive Bernie Sanders and others helped fuel Booker’s surge.

With it came an influx of campaign contributions to pay for a last-minute ad blitz in the two weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primary.

Some polls have Booker neck-and-neck with McGrath, but polling isn’t as reliable this year because of the pandemic, which has prevented traditional, and more reliable, door-to-door polling.

It also changed the way the candidates campaigned.

McGrath says it was a no-brainer to shift the campaign’s approach during the pandemic.

“I’m not about to go out and do you know, massive rallies bringing people together right now, when there’s a public health crisis, especially against you know the governor’s restrictions, so I feel I felt very strongly about that and I felt like we could still get our message out.”

But she says, despite Sen. McConnell’s criticism of being too liberal for Kentucky, or others saying she’s too conservative, McGrath stresses her policies haven’t shifted because of any pressures.

“I mean here’s the thing, I’m just an American. I’m somebody that wants common sense solutions to the problems that we face I don’t want to play political games, I’m not an ideologue. I’m just somebody that wants to get things done,” McGrath said.

All in all, McGrath said it’s part of her nature to be flexible when faced with the pandemic and its nuances.

“I’m somebody who is a military officer, I’ve been a fighter pilot. We’re used to flexing, we’re used to being adaptable. And, you know, you take everything in stride, you take a deep breath and you train for this point, you work very hard to get to this point, you have a team that is behind you. And we’re just going to be awaiting the results, just like everybody else and we’ll adapt and overcome,” McGrath said.

When Booker was asked about his recent success and push to the top, he said it’s been coming all along.

“But we’ve been doing work, we’ve been building this momentum, folks have been fired up. We’ve had hundreds of volunteers working across Kentucky for months. Just the news wasn’t saying it, and we were dealing with the pandemic,” Booker said. “So, the light is being shined on the work we’ve been doing.”

Booker said as a Black man running for senator participating in the Black Lives Matter protests and rallies was not done just to gain political support.

“And this isn’t about politics for me, this really is about survival,” Booker said. “We carry a lot of trauma, but we’re using that pain to inspire us to push for greater, and it’s going to result in winning this election because we have a sense of urgency and the momentum has been building.”

This year might have been unique in terms of campaigning, but it also has produced some unique positives, Booker noted.

“We have to keep breaking barriers down and make it easier for people to get involved, even from their couch in normal times,” he said, citing the growth in virtual rallies, campaigns and rallies.

Mike Broihier prides himself on being a man with a diverse background as a veteran, teacher and farmer. And should he win the nomination, he believes his “non-politician” background will be help him in November against McConnell, who all three have painted as an entrenched Beltway politician who has long forgotten about the people at home.

Booker and Broihier are both seen as progressives, but Broihier said Booker’s recent success won’t hurt his own success, and vice versa, but for different reasons.

“I think that he and McGrath are splitting the politician vote actually,” Broihier said.

Meanwhile, Booker said he welcomes more voices wanting to fight against McConnell, but a fellow progressive isn’t going to hurt his campaign.

“This is not about being progressive, it’s not about a title. It’s about standing up for family and fighting back to make sure we can have a better future because we deserve it in this Commonwealth,” Booker said.

Of the three candidates, Broihier said he may have been hurt the most by the inability to press the flesh and take his message directly to the people.

“I think that probably hurt me, because when my wife and I started this campaign back in July, we literally were not politicians, so we were just reaching out to every Democratic group that would have us,” Broihier said. “It feels sometimes hollow doing like a stump speech or something like that or answering questions over Zoom, it’s been the best substitute we’ve had, but I do miss the in person politicking, I don’t miss the driving.”

With expanded mail-in absentee ballots, early voting and in-person voting all playing a part, collection of votes and counting also will look different.

The final results expected a week later on June 30.

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Monica Harkins joined the ABC 36 News team in June 2019 as a Multimedia journalist and Anchor/Producer. She’s born and raised in Austin, Texas and headed “North,” as she calls it, to study broadcast journalism and business at the University of Missouri. While at Mizzou she anchored and reported for KOMU 8 News, an NBC affiliate in Columbia, Missouri all four years. During her childhood she played almost every sport, but they always called her “Hollywood” for her love of theatre. In high school, she realized her excitement for theatre and performing was only a small piece of the puzzle. It’s story telling that’s her passion. She’s especially passionate about social media and creative platforms to tell stories. Her most recent experiment is being a FAA certified drone pilot. As a proud Texan she says she’s made of country music, Southern hospitality and Sweet Tea. When she’s not at work you can find her trying new recipes, listening to crime podcasts, reading the latest romance novel or rockin’ out to live music with friends. She says she’s only a tweet or Facebook message away, so say hi and send her the latest on your community. @MonicaHarkinstv or Mharkins@wtvq.com