WASHINGTON – Amy McGrath, a former Navy fighter pilot who built a formidable campaign war chest, emerged Tuesday as the Democratic nominee to face Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, avoiding a challenge from the left that highlighted ideological divisions of the party.
A week after the primaries were held, The Associated Press stated that Ms. McGrath was the winner after a campaign that was shaped by the coronavirus pandemic and protests against racial injustice. She narrowly defeated Charles Booker, an African-American state lawmaker who took advantage of the anger over a couple of fatal shootings by authorities in Louisville to protest in the closing weeks of the campaign.
However, McGrath had raised more than $ 40 million in early June and accumulated a considerable advantage even before Primary Day because many voters cast absentee votes to avoid polls and the risk of contracting the coronavirus. He was also helped by the presence of several Democrats on the ballot, including another progressive who won about 5 percent of the vote.
But Booker’s belated rise in what had been a relatively quiet nomination contest was another illustration of a progressive push in the Democratic Party, as outrage at racial injustice amplifies calls for transformative change. A cheeky progressive, Mr. Booker ran on “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal.
As of Tuesday it was not clear that Ms. McGrath had won because several Kentucky counties waited to make sure they had counted their many mail-in ballots before publishing the results.
He will face uphill competition against McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, in a state that President Trump led by about 30 points four years ago.
Mr. Booker would also have had a difficult career against Mr. McConnell. However, in electing Ms. McGrath, Kentucky Democrats are following a careful course, presenting a well-funded moderate politician with military credentials in a red state.
Mr. Booker, who ran as an outspoken progressive, argued that such an approach had been tried before and was doomed to failure. Earning the support of local newspapers and liberal out-of-state leaders like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Mr. Booker was enraged by the murders of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee to shake up what It had been a quiet race done mostly under the radar until the last month.
Ms. Taylor was shot eight times after Louisville police officers entered her apartment with a battering ram. Mr. McAtee was shot at his barbecue stand in Louisville when police and National Guard confronted curfew violators.
The establishment-aligned national Democrats, led by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, had tried to crown Ms. McGrath last year. By virtue of the grand fundraising list she built on her failed 2018 House race, and the contempt Democratic donors feel for McConnell, they saw her as someone who could compete and perhaps compel Republicans to divert money to Kentucky.
She will still have enough cash for her career against McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term, but her uneven performance as a candidate, first in 2018 and again in this primary, has raised questions about how strong the campaign will be. in the general elections.
Ms. McGrath’s prospects depend in part on how close a career of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Kentucky may be against Mr. Trump. If Biden can substantially reduce the margin Trump enjoyed there in 2016, it will offer him a better chance of winning. That’s because in this polarized era, there are relatively few voters willing to split their tickets, in this case voting for Trump and then for a Democratic candidate for the Senate.
His challenge is compounded by McConnell’s increased position among Republicans. After facing mistrust to the right in the Tea Party era, McConnell has improved his popularity among Kentucky Republicans by largely aligning himself with Trump.