Charles Booker, the Black former state lawmaker in Kentucky who one year ago came close to winning the 2020 Democratic Senate nomination, on Thursday launched a 2022 progressive campaign to challenge Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
“Let’s make freedom ring. Real freedom, from the hood to the holler. We can start by taking our seat back from Rand Paul. I’m running,” Booker said as he announced his candidacy on social media.
A couple of hours later, Booker formally kicked off his campaign with a noontime rally in the majority-Black west side of Louisville, part of the district that he represented for a term in Kentucky’s House of Representatives.
Booker, once a long shot for the 2020 nomination against Democratic establishment favorite and eventual nominee Amy McGrath, saw his campaign surge last spring amid protests in Kentucky and over police brutality against minorities and systemic racism nationwide.
The demonstrations were sparked by the murder of a Black man, George Floyd, in Minnesota – as well as the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician who was fatally shot in her apartment by police in Louisville, Booker’s hometown.
Booker referenced the fatal shooting of Taylor in his campaign launch video.
“For so many people across Kentucky and across the country, freedom hasn’t been freedom for us,” Booker emphasized. And spotlighting his fight for freedom, he stressed that “we can make freedom ring true. We can make it ring for everyone. We can make a future where Brianna’s door isn’t kicked in.”
Booker – in his tweet and in his video – also reprised his “hood to the holler” 2020 campaign theme, which highlighted what Black Kentuckians in urban areas and low-income Whites in the rural mountains of eastern Kentucky, which he termed the “people in forgotten places,” have in common.
While Booker is the favorite in the Democratic nomination race, he will be a distinct underdog in the general election in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in nearly three decades.
After ending his unsuccessful 2016 GOP White House bid, Paul won reelection later that year by nearly 15 points, and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell crushed McGrath by nearly 20 points last November.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the reelection arm of the Senate GOP, quickly targeted Booker, charging on Twitter that “Kentuckians know [Charles Booker] as a proud socialist who wants to defund the police, take away their guns, hike taxes, and destroy jobs. Booker is too liberal for Kentucky, and his Bernie agenda has no place in the Senate.”
The Libertarian-minded Paul, an eye surgeon, was first elected to the Senate in the Tea Party wave of 2010. While he clashed with then-Republican presidential rival Donald Trump during the 2016 primaries, Paul became a major supporter and ally during Trump’s four years in the White House, and in April the former president formally endorsed the senator’s 2022 reelection bid.
Booker slammed Paul during his launch speech in Louisville.
“I see you but you don’t see us,” Booker said of Paul.
And he charged that the senator “does not represent Kentucky” and “literally doesn’t care if you live or die.”
Fox News’ Tara Prindiville contributed to this story