When Charles Booker grabbed the mic in Murray Friday night, the national media was laser-focused on the much-anticipated Georgia Senate debate between Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, and his Republican challenger, former football star Herschel Walker.
“There are a lot of races across the country, and if you all are watching the news, they’re not even talking about Kentucky,” said Booker, the Louisville Democrat who wants Republican senator Rand Paul’s job.
He said that two years ago, Donald Trump was expected to pocket the electoral vote of Georgia, a Republican red state like Kentucky.
“We’re not Georgia. But what’s true is that when you organize, when you build, when you actually talk about the issues, have the audacity to push back against the cynicism, when you meet people where they are, and when you have the power of love and put it into action, you can win anywhere.”
Polls and conventional wisdom point to Paul’s cruising to a third term. Undaunted, Booker’s optimism fired up a fish fry crowd that repeatedly interrupted his 15-minute stump speech with cheers and applause.
The Calloway County Democratic party sponsored the feed that featured fried, cornmeal-battered fish and the traditional deep western Kentucky trimmings: hushpuppies, white beans, French fries, and coleslaw.
Booker shared the mic stage at the Grove of Murray Conference Center with two other candidates: Jimmy Ausbrooks, a Franklin Democrat who is out to unseat First District Rep. James Comer; and Madison Leach, who is running for Calloway County attorney, also on the Democratic ticket.
Booker told the crowd, “I've got some good news for you. Once I tell you, you can go and post it on social media: We’re going to beat Rand Paul.”
He poured it on: “We’re going to beat Rand Paul so badly that the entire country will be looking at us and asking, ‘What’s going on in Kentucky? We didn’t think that was possible; it’s a red state, a Trump state.’”
He said his backers include Trump voters and Kentuckians who’ve never cast a ballot before. “The issues we’re speaking to, the love we’re showing and talking about bringing people together” have created a broad coalition of support.
“Rand Paul can’t stop us if we stand together. Mitch McConnell can’t stop us if we stand together,” Booker added.
Booker says that when he travels the state, he’s sometimes “the only registered Democrat in the room. But when I talk about the fact that no one should have to choose between their medicine and putting food on the table, people know what I’m talking about.”
Booker, a Type I diabetic, told the Murray crowd about having had to ration his insulin because of the cost.
Booker conceded he’s fighting an uphill battle. “I don't blame you if you question whether we can win,” he said. “I don’t blame you if you’ve wanted to give up, if you are frustrated, or question whether we can win the future.
“I am saying this because I understand. I have felt it, but I ask you to push through the cynicism. Push through the sense of apathy. We don’t have to accept things being this way.”
He cited a famous quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“Essentially what that means is that if we can hang in there and keep fighting the good fight together that love will win; the truth will win, and we’ll get the healing that we need because there is something in us that hate can’t block out. Hate is only successful if we allow it to be.”
Booker also said that his parents, both ministers, taught him that faith can “not only overcome struggles” but also “move mountains out of the way. We shouldn’t have to go through generations of poverty, family farmers being choked out, folks losing their livelihoods. We don’t have to deal with a system where we don’t have quality health care while Rand Paul has a Cadillac plan that’s government paid for.
“As soon as we understand what’s possible and push through that doubt, we’ll bend the arc.”
He urged the crowd, “With 25 days left, we’ve got to grab that arc and pull on it with everything we have in us. You pull on that arc by talking to your neighbors, by letting folks know that Amendment 2 will take away the rights and humanity of your loved ones. Vote No.” (The amendment, which is also on the ballot on Nov. 8, would end the constitutional right to an abortion in the state.)
“You’re pulling on that arc when you say that we shouldn’t have to accept infrastructure that’s crumbling and cracked, that investing in the people is not wasteful spending – funding Rand Paul’s salary is wasteful spending.”
He said that when Louisville police shot and killed Breonna Taylor, a Black EMT, in a bungled raid on her apartment in 2020, breaking down her door, it felt to him “like everybody’s door was busted off the hinges. There was a sense of pain and grief all over Kentucky when we were marching in the streets – all backgrounds, all walks of life.
“[We] walked with law enforcement, walked with faith leaders, teachers, business leaders, children, parents, veterans. We were all marching together for justice and a brighter future.”
He said he brought up Taylor’s death because “in the moments of crisis — and we saw it with the flooding and the tornado — we come together. It’s not about ‘What’s your party?’ or how much money you have in your pocket, what faith you believe. It’s not about ‘Well, your skin is darker than mine.’ We understood the strength of us coming together. We’ve got to remember that now.
“We’ve got to remember, because we will be the reason that democracy continues on for our children.”
He said Kentuckians know what’s at stake on Nov. 8. “We’re fighting for the idea of democracy and a free and safe society, and Rand Paul can’t stop us if we stand together.”
Paul, a libertarian-leaning conservative from Bowling Green, has been accused of dabbling in racism in attacking Booker, who is Black. Earlier this month, the Paul campaign released a controversial ad that claimed that Booker “doesn’t believe in civil discourse, only violence” and implied the Democrat embraces the violent “radical left.”
Booker swiftly condemned the ad, declaring in a statement, “Neither I, nor my campaign, have ever endorsed violence against any political candidate. It is despicable for Rand Paul to even insinuate that.”
Booker told the Murray crowd that his campaign “is not about radical, crazy politics. This is about doing what’s right. It’s about saying that no matter where you’re from, how much money you have in your pocket, the color of your skin, what your pronoun is, whether you’re walking or in a wheelchair, that you matter and the government you pay for should work for you.”
He promised the crowd that with election day fast approaching, “I will push against my own cynicism, and I will get up on my two feet and work until my voice gives out, till I bust my shoes. I’m going to keep checking on my glucose; I’m going to take care of myself.
“But I’m going to lock arms with you, and we’re going to win this race, and then we’ll keep winning our future. I am so deeply proud to do this with you. Thank you for giving me the chance to represent you. Thank you for believing enough in me that you would want to send me to Washington in that mess.”
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