An 80-1 longshot may have won this year’s Kentucky Derby, but underdogs in the state’s Republican primaries had no such luck Tuesday as incumbents swept past interparty rivals and onto likely reelection against Democratic opponents in November.
As expected, two-term Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) easily won his GOP primary against little-known, marginally financed hopefuls. He will face Democratic challenger state Rep. Charles Booker (D-Ky.) in the general election.
All five of Kentucky’s six sitting Republican U.S. House representatives likewise breezed to preliminary wins. U.S. Reps. Jamie Comer, Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie, Hal Rogers, and Andy Barr now advance to general elections as heavy favorites against longshot Democrats in the deep red Bluegrass State.
But Democrats will take their chances with party primaries producing entries in all six districts, including a November favorite in Louisville-centric Congressional District 3 (CD 3) where state Sen. Morgan McGarvey defeated state Rep. Attica Scott and is likely to succeed the retiring eight-term Democrat Rep. John Yarmuth.
The primaries, which featured Kentucky’s first-ever “no excuses necessary” three-day early voting period, will present voters with this ballot in November:
Booker, 38, “a lifelong resident of Louisville’s West End,” garnered 68.7 of the vote, with 19 percent of the precincts reporting at 8:10 p.m. on May 17, easily eclipsing three Democratic primary candidates: Louisvlille educator Ruth Gao, Winchester machinist John Merrill, and Louisville marijuana legalization activist Joshua Blanton Sr.
This is Booker’s second run for the U.S. Senate. After being elected to the Kentucky House in 2018, he was narrowly defeated in 2020 by Amy McGrath in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary by less than 16,000 votes. McGrath went on to lose that race to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Booker, with $3.4 million in campaign funding, spent little time or money on winning the prmary, instead directly targeting Paul and “his weathy alies” in anticipation of a November showdown.
Booker espouses a “Kentucky New Deal” that includes Medicare for All and a basic universal income. He will present voters with a clear clash of opposite ideologies in his race against Paul, a conservative free-trade champion with Libertarian leanings.
Paul, 59, an ophthalmologist and the son of former 10-term Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 and was among Donald Trump’s 2016 GOP rivals before withdrawing from the race.
Endorsed by former President Donald Trump as an outspoken proponent of limited government who “fights against the swamp in Washington,” Paul accrued 87.1 of the primary vote, with 34 percent of the precincts reporting at 8:11 p.m. on May 17, in his contest against Tami Stainfield, Dr. Val Fredrick, Paul Hamilton, and John Schiess.
Paul, with more than $20 million in campaign contributions, enters the race a heavy favorite. Kentucky has not elected a Democratic U.S. senator in 30 years and is not likely to do so in November.
But the matchup features two entustiastic campaigners and loquacious orators from polar perspectives. The summer-long campaigns could prove more contentiously animated than ultimately competitive come fall.