Charles Booker told the rally crowd that he brought his campaign bus to Paducah for a couple of reasons.
“One, I want to pour some love on you,” explained the Louisville Democrat who is challenging Sen. Rand Paul (R-Bowling Green). “And two, I want to give you some encouragement because I need your help.”
Booker is a liberal, probably the most liberal Democrat who’s ever run for the Senate in Kentucky.
Kentucky has become one of the reddest of the Republican red states. Liberals are mostly rare beyond Booker’s hometown. Jefferson (Louisville) and Fayette (Lexington) are the only counties Donald Trump lost both times he ran for president.
Few GOP lawmakers are more conservative than Paul, a Trump ally who seldom misses a chance to burnish his MAGA creds. Hence, pollsters and pundits agree that the incumbent will almost certainly win a third term. Even some Democrats agree, however reluctantly.
Nonetheless, Booker predicts he'll pull off what would be one of the greatest — if not the greatest — political upsets in state history.
“There are a lot of folks who counted us out before we even started,” Booker told the faithful in Paducah. “They say, ‘Charles, I like you. You’ve got a nice smile, but this is Kentucky. Nothing’s going to change’ and ‘Did you look in the mirror, Charles Booker? You’re a Black man.’”
He followed up with a line that brought the audience of 100 or more to its collective feet: “In spite of that, we’re going to win.” Cheers and applause echoed off the walls inside Paducah Beer Werks, a brewery and restaurant. The watering hole-eatery seemed an appropriate place for a Booker bus stop; it was the local Greyhound bus station for years.
Kentucky is 87 percent white, mostly rural and largely Bible Belt conservative. Booker started “Hood to the Holler,” an organization aimed at uniting urban and rural Americans by “building coalitions, breaking down barriers of race and class, and fueling a people-centered movement to build power and transform our future,” his website explains.
At the same time, he looked to the historic past to name his platform, borrowing from Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt who carried Kentucky in blowouts all four times he was elected.
FDR called his program to fight the Great Depression the New Deal. Booker is stumping the state for a Kentucky New Deal which his website describes as “a bold vision to ensure life, freedom, and prosperity for all Kentuckians. We can end generational poverty, deliver on justice, and strengthen democracy by centering the needs of Kentuckians ahead of corporate greed, lobbyists, and career politicians that have held us back for so long.”
Roosevelt, in office from 1933 to his death in 1945, was the country’s most pro-union president to date. Booker served in the state House for one term, long enough to carve out a pro-union record. The Kentucky State AFL-CIO unanimously endorsed his candidacy.
Booker was reared in church and his parents are ministers, but he promised rally-goers, “I didn't come to preach at you.” He told the crowd, “I know how hard it is to envision things changing and then to fight for change, and then to keep fighting for it, and then to suffer losses, and then to get back up and keep fighting after that.
“We’ve all had every reason to throw our hands up, to pack it up and to say ‘well, that's it.’ We suffer losses; I’ve suffered losses. You can drop your head, but the fact that you did not do that, the fact that you are here now ... reminds me of why I get up to fight every day.”
As an aside, he criticized the national media for focusing on senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, Nevada, and other states. “They don’t even talk about Kentucky,” Booker said. “So they doubt us; fine, we’ll prove ’em wrong.”
The candidate triggered a round of boos when he chided the national Democratic brass for opting “not to invest in this race. They deserve every one of those boos because Kentucky is worth fighting for.”
Though the votes won’t be counted until after the polls close on Nov. 8, Booker said, “We’ve already won. Just look around this room.”
He turned back to the media, promising that “when they call this race for a young Black man from 35th and Market, from the hood, when they call this race to say that Randal Howard Paul has been blown out, I'm going to think about y’all – all the door knocks, all the phone calls, all the text messages, the resilience, all the time we marched together, all he hugs, the times we’ve cried, times we’ve screamed, all the prayers, all the faith we’ve put into action.
“This is bigger than winning a race.”