Charles Booker had a rallying cry on the campaign trail in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate in 2020. As his stump speech was winding down — a passionate, free-wheeling spiel imploring people to embrace the bold vision of a progressive government — he would say “we’re gonna win this race.”
At a Frankfort rally in the middle of June, with the crowd sweating under a white tent behind a small brewery, he repeated the phrase again and again. Then, just as the crowd was starting to get loud, he stopped.
“We already won,” he said.
Booker lost at the ballot box but won the moment. He emerged from the primary with a strong base of enthusiastic supporters, a glowing and growing national profile, and likely frontrunner status in the 2022 race to challenge U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
He caught lightning in a bottle. The question now, though, is does it still glow.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, said it’s very hard for any candidate to maintain political momentum for two years. “Because generally speaking, voters’ attention span is not that long,” he said.
There’s a cadre of candidates who were once the hot thing in politics, only to be discarded by voters when they tried to stretch their popularity and gain a bigger platform. Rand Paul in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Beto O’Rourke in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Amy McGrath for U.S. Senate.
McGrath’s past could be Booker’s future in his likely 2022 bid for U.S. Senate. She, too, was a candidate who fit a moment in 2018. She, too, came about three points shy in her first race for Congress against U.S. Rep. Andy Barr. She, too, tried to stretch that momentum into a Senate race two years later.
And when she couldn’t, when she out-raised and out-spent U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and still came up 20 points short, it raised the question of whether any Democrat can win a Senate seat in Kentucky.
“I don’t know that it’s a suicide mission,” Yarmuth said. “Obviously the odds are against anyone.”