November Paul-Booker US Senate Clash Is the Most Compelling Race in Kentucky’s May 17 Primaries

The biggest race in the Kentucky primaries is not on the May 17 ballot but the presumptive November clash between two-term Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Charles Booker.

Both are so heavily favored to secure their party’s nod in the intramurals that their campaigns are already targeting each other.

Paul faces five little-known, marginally financed hopefuls in his GOP primary and has amassed $20 million in campaign funding, according to his April Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filing.

Booker is also projected to easily defeat three other candidates in his party primary and his campaign reported $3.367 million in its coffers in its April FEC filing.

Kentucky has not elected a Democratic U.S. senator in 30 years and is not likely to do so in November, but the matchup between the favored incumbent Paul and the underdog Booker features two enthusiastic campaigners and gifted orators from polar perspectives in a summer-long campaign that could prove more contentious than ultimately competitive come fall.

The U.S. Senate party primaries are the only statewide elections on Kentucky’s May 17 ballot, which includes municipal contests and interparty preliminaries for the General Assembly and six Congressional seats.

Republican incumbents are expected to be reelected in five of Kentucky’s six Congressional districts after winning their May 17 primaries and cruising past Democratic opponents in November.

The one race guaranteed to produce a newcomer is in Congressional District 3 (CD 3), where eight-term Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth is retiring. Two state lawmakers are vying for his seat in the Democratic primary for the Louisville-area district—the only one rated by the Cook Partisan Voting Index as leaning blue in the Bluegrass State.

Saturday’s conclusion of a three-day early voting period follows in-person, excused, absentee early voting on May 4-6 and May 9-11. Mail-in Absentee ballots were due May 3. The turnout figures for earlier voting periods had not been posted as of Friday.

The presumed November U.S. Senate election between Paul, a conservative free-trade champion with Libertarian leanings, and Booker, who espouses a “Kentucky New Deal” that includes Medicare for All and a basic universal income, is a clash of ideological opposites with shared populist overtones.

Paul, 59, is an ophthalmologist and the son of former Republican Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who served 10 terms in Congress and was a three-time Libertarian presidential candidate.

In his first political race, Rand Paul was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 and was among Donald Trump’s 2016 GOP rivals. Paul withdrew from the race and has since been an ardent Trump supporter in the Senate.

The former president endorsed Paul’s reelection bid in 2021, praising the senator’s adherence to “America First” foreign policies and his national profile as a proponent of limited government who  “fights against the swamp in Washington.”

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
A sign is displayed behind Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as he speaks at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington on July 20, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool/Getty Images)

Paul’s primary opponents are:

Tami Stainfield of Marion, who has “lived and worked in nine states, with careers in banking, education, healthcare, information technology, building automation, and energy conservation.”

Dr. Val Fredrick, a Paducah chiropractor, real estate broker, and business owner.

— Midway University economics professor Paul Hamilton.

— John Schiess, a conservative talk show host and courier who ran for governor in Wisconsin in 2010, for Congress in Wisconsin in 2014, for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin in 2012, 2016, and 2018, and for the U.S. Senate in Arizona in 2020.

Only Stainfield met thresholds requiring an FEC filing and, in April, her campaign was in debt, raising $19,790 while spending $39,694, leaving it $19,904 in arrears.

Paul, meanwhile, has garnered $20,065,162 in campaign contributions, according to his April FEC filing, with $1.3 million coming from Republican/Conservative PACS, $447,596 from real estate interests, $443,096 from “health professionals,” and $358,723 from securities and investment firms.

His largest donors include Club for Growth ($94,367), Senate Conservatives Fund ($69,596), Mason Capital Management ($20,300), John E Downing Psc ($18,500), Saulsbury Industries ($17,400), Forcht Group of Kentucky ($17,000), and the US Immigration Fund ($14,250).

Paul, who only officially kicked off his reelection campaign on April 24, has not targeted Booker by name but has taken aim at the progressive Democrat’s agenda in rallies and statements, vowing to fight expansions of social program spending his presumed November opponent has proposed with “every fiber of my being.”

“The allure of something for nothing is not new,” Paul told supporters in a late April campaign event. “Most of us instinctively know that nothing really in life is free. That you have to work hard. But there are people among us … who succumb to this sort of siren call. This idea that there is something out there that you don’t have to work for. That somehow we can get something for free.”

On Twitter Friday, Paul encouraged conservatives to go to the polls and vote even if the election appears a non-contest.

“Primary #ElectionDay is coming up! Vote May 17th or vote early. I’m honored to serve as your Senator,” he wrote. “I put KY first every day, fight the socialists and petty tyrants in Washington, and help protect your freedoms. I hope you’ll give me the honor of doing it for another term.”

Booker, 38, is “a lifelong resident of Louisville’s West End” who lost his first foray into politics in 2016 when he was defeated in a primary battle for a state senate seat.

When he was elected to the Kentucky House in 2018, Booker became the youngest Black lawmaker elected to state office in nearly a century.

In 2020, Booker was narrowly defeated by Amy McGrath in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary by less than 16,000 votes. McGrath went on to challenge senior Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, then-Senate Majority Leader, in a spirited campaign that the incumbent eventually won by 19 percentage points.

Booker has served as director of development of 1619 Flux, an education and equity policy analyst with the Louisville Urban League, manager of neighborhood initiatives with the Louisville Independent Business Alliance, and the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources Division Director of Administrative Services.

He garnered statewide, and national, attention in 2020 for his outspoken “economic justice” messaging amid protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans in encounters with police.

Booker maintains his progressive “Kentucky New Deal” will appeal to populist Trump voters, noting in a recent Kentucky Educational Television interview that the former president “spoke to some realities that we cannot ignore when he said that the system is broken for a lot of us across Kentucky. Now, when he said he was going to make it better, he was exploiting fears, he was weaponizing pain.”

He faces three other candidates in the May 17 Democratic primary:

Ruth Gao, a Louisville educator who “worked as an essential worker as a drive-thru director at Chick-fil-A.”

John Merrill, a Winchester master CNC machinist, electronics tech, teacher, musician, and U.S. Navy veteran.

Joshua Blanton Sr., a U.S. Army veteran and “marijuana legalization activist” from Louisville.

Only Gao’s campaign, with $8,414 in contributions, filed an April report with the FEC.

Booker’s campaign, meanwhile, reported $3,366,727 in its war chest with nearly $1.7 million coming from contributions of $200 or less, according to its April FEC filing.

His biggest donors include the University of Louisville ($25,156), the Gilder, Gagnon et al law firm ($20,300), Jefferson County Public Schools ($17,410), Brown-Forman Corp ($15,262), the University of Kentucky ($14,865), the University of Maryland ($14,712), and Humana, Inc. ($14,663).

While Paul has not mentioned by his presumed opponent by name, Booker has not refrained from accusing the incumbent senator for “using dog whistles” to attack him.

“Rand Paul and his wealthy allies will use the oldest tricks in the book: they’ll call us names, they’ll distort facts, and they’ll lie to preserve their grip on power,” Booker said in a campaign ad. “They’ll spend millions of dollars on television ads to divide people up, and convince Kentuckians that our neighbors are the problem. We can’t fall for it. We can win not only this seat but long-lasting change in Kentucky; all it takes is shared belief in each other.”

John Haughey

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John Haughey has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government, state legislatures, and growth and development. A graduate of the University of Wyoming, he is a Navy veteran who fought fires at sea during three deployments aboard USS Constellation. He’s been a reporter for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida; a staff writer for Manhattan-based business trade publications.

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