A year after his narrow Senate primary loss to an ultimately unsuccessful centrist candidate hand-picked by Democratic leaders, former Kentucky state legislator Charles Booker announced Thursday that he will again challenge assumptions about how the Democratic Party can win elections in the state, launching his 2022 campaign against Sen. Rand Paul.
"I grew up in the West End of Louisville, and for years, I lived in the poorest zip code in the Commonwealth... I've lived the struggle other politicians just talk about." —Charles Booker
Booker released a video announcement on social media Thursday morning ahead of a rally at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in West Louisville, a majority-Black neighborhood he says the Democrats have historically neglected and taken for granted during elections.
The progressive leader's message in the video centered on freedom—which "so many people across Kentucky and across the country" have fought for while being governed by "politicians who have been free to exploit us."
Lawmakers like Paul have "freedom to rob us, freedom to tell us that we don't deserve better and all we can ever afford to have are politicians who don't care whether we live or die," said Booker. "That's not freedom."
Booker's primary campaign last year was largely ignored by the Democratic establishment, while progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) endorsed his campaign to represent Kentuckians "from the hood to the holler."
His opponent, former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, was recruited by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N,Y.) and beat Booker by less than three points after out-raising him 40-to-1—only to lose to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by nearly 20 points despite McConnell's open disdain for the needs of his constituents amid the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison was quick to offer support to Booker in April when he announced he was forming a Senate campaign exploratory committee. The committee raised more than half a million dollars in its first month.
So far, Booker has taken aim at Paul for voting against coronavirus relief legislation which would have sent millions of dollars of relief to Kentucky residents last year, holding up an anti-lynching bill, and making false claims of election fraud.
In an email to supporters on Thursday, he highlighted how his own lived experience has given him far more commonalities with average Kentuckians than Paul.
"I grew up in the West End of Louisville, and for years, I lived in the poorest zip code in the Commonwealth," Booker wrote. "I've rationed my insulin to have money to feed my family. I've lost people I love to gun violence. I've lived the struggle other politicians just talk about, but I've also seen the incredible kindness, strength, and resilience of our state."
"And the policies Rand Paul has fought for—like tax cuts for the top 1%—did nothing to help me or the people in my community," he added. "I'm running for Senate because I know our state deserves a real fighter."
Booker supports a Green New Deal to transition away from a fossil fuel economy while providing a just transition and union jobs to millions of Americans—a proposal the nation's largest coal miners' union signaled support for in April—Medicare for All, universal basic income, and other far-reaching progressive policies.
As HuffPost reported, beating Paul, who 47% of Kentucky voters said they would support in a February poll, will be an uphill battle. It's been three decades since a Democrat won a Senate race in the state and more than 10 years since the party came within 10 points of winning a Senate seat there.
Booker believes his goal of turning out every possible voter across the state—"from the hood to the holler," engaging with people of color in urban areas as well as mostly white communities in Appalachia—is the key to a Democratic victory, instead of pushing a centrist message and simply assuming Black voters will support the party.
"Folks may be inclined to vote Democrat, but we don't go talk to them," Booker told HuffPost. "We just expect that they're going to vote the way we think they will."
In his campaign video Thursday, Booker told supporters he aims to "make freedom ring true" as a U.S. senator.
"We can make it ring for everyone," he said. "We can build a future where Breonna [Taylor]'s door isn't kicked in. We can make freedom mean that every community across Kentucky is thriving... that we're not just working to struggle less but that we're owning, we're creating, we're building pathways to wealth all over Kentucky."
"It's with that understanding that we have to lead ourselves that I'm going to run for United States Senate," he said.