The Kentucky primary race between Democratic candidates to decide who takes on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November is too close to call, NBC News projected.
Amy McGrath, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, had a slight edge in a tougher-than-expected challenge from state Rep. Charles Booker. With less than 10 percent of the vote at 11:30 p.m. ET, McGrath led Booker by slightly over 2,000 votes. Those votes include only ones cast at the polls Tuesday; none of the mail-in ballots have been counted yet.
Democratic enthusiasm for McGrath was high when she entered the race last year, and she raised $2.5 million in her first 24 hours. The enthusiasm quickly cooled when she said in an interview with The Courier-Journal of Louisville that “I probably would have voted” to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who’s widely loathed by Democrats. She later tweeted that “upon further reflection and further understanding of his record, I would have voted no.”
McGrath continued her fundraising prowess, and as of June 3 she had raised over $41 million, according to the most recent fundraising filings. She had to dip into that money for ads to fight off a late surge from Booker, who supports “Medicare for All,” the Green New Deal and universal basic income and campaigned against inequality and racial injustice.
Booker, who entered the race only in January, rode late momentum to overtake the much better-funded McGrath and had raised $793,000 by that point.
Booker joined protests over the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a Louisville woman who was shot dead in her apartment on March 13 by police executing a “no-knock” warrant, and netted endorsements from the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Booker also made an issue of McGrath’s failure to protest — leading her to air an ad decrying the death of George Floyd. Booker noted that she didn’t mention Taylor in the ad.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
McGrath was also backed by several establishment Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “I believe that she’ll give McConnell a run for his money,” Schumer said last week.
In New York, longtime Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel was in a tough fight for re-election as he tried to fend off an aggressive primary challenge from Jamaal Bowman, a progressive candidate running in his first political campaign.
Bowman had a big early lead, according to NBC News projections, but as in Kentucky, officials have not begun to tally mail-in ballots.
Bowman’s fight with Engel in New York’s 16th District is being compared to Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset over longtime Rep. Joe Crowley in the 14th District in 2018.
Bowman’s bid was helped by Engel, who found himself on the defensive after he was caught on a hot mic this month pleading to speak at a news event involving unrest and vandalism in his district after Floyd’s death.
“If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care,” Engel, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was heard telling Bronx borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Bowman over her congressional colleague this month.
Engel, who has represented the 16th since 1989, was backed by former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Schumer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.