Booker’s rise began late last month as he took part in protests against police brutality in his hometown of Louisville. Major leaders from the party’s left wing, from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, endorsed him in the closing weeks. He already had support from state legislators and other Kentucky Democrats, but more in-state supporters jumped off the sidelines down the stretch.
But McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who was backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, had a superior organization and massive fundraising advantage that proved too much to overcome. She raised more than $40 million ahead of the primary, significantly outraising Booker and even McConnell. She spent more than $12 million on TV in the race, compared to less than $2 million from Booker, and her campaign won significant margins in the state’s rural counties outside Louisville and Lexington.
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Most of her spending focused on McConnell, as McGrath essentially ran a general-election campaign against him for months, even after Booker joined the race in January. She focused some of her late advertising more directly to the state’s Democrats, a concession to the rapidly tightening race, and outspent Booker heavily in the final week. Even then, her advertising leaned on many Democrats’ belief that her campaign is best suited to challenge McConnell this fall.
Kentucky is a challenging state for Democrats to compete in a federal general election. McConnell, who is seeking a sixth term, is unpopular in polling of his state’s voters, and some public polls have shown the race to be competitive. But President Donald Trump is favored to carry the state overwhelmingly in the fall, and Democrats would need to convince huge numbers of voters to split their tickets.
Still, it is the first time McConnell will be on the ballot as the Senate majority leader, and McGrath’s fundraising ability gives Democrats hope of making the contest expensive and potentially competitive. A super PAC aligned with McConnell has already booked nearly $11 million in ads to run this fall, an investment that came alongside more likely battleground states like Arizona, North Carolina and Maine.