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McGrath looks to win over supporters of primary opponent

She took to the campaign trail rather than facing off with McConnell, her general-election opponent, at the Fancy Farm picnic.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Looking to reclaim the progressive and minority voters who didn’t back her during Kentucky’s U.S. Senate primary, Democrat Amy McGrath has unveiled a social justice plan and touted voter registration efforts she hopes will help her topple Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McGrath on Saturday helped sign up new voters and offered a multitiered plan that calls for closing funding gaps in education, investing in impoverished communities, targeting support for minority-owned businesses and banning no-knock warrants in federal drug cases.

She took to the campaign trail rather than facing off with McConnell, her general-election opponent, at the Fancy Farm picnic. The campaign speeches at Fancy Farm — the traditional kickoff of the fall campaign — were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

McGrath has yet to campaign with former opponent Charles Booker, the progressive Black lawmaker from Louisville whose late-charging campaign came up short in the June Democratic Senate primary. In promoting her plan, McGrath echoed some of his campaign themes of racial and economic justice when she said: “Our country has a long way to go to fulfill our Constitution’s promise of equality for every American.”

McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, needs a united Democratic base behind her in an uphill campaign against McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term.

State Sen. Gerald Neal, a Black Democrat from Louisville, said Monday that McGrath’s plan shows an “extensive commitment” to many key issues facing the African American community.

Many Booker supporters will automatically shift their support to McGrath as the Democratic nominee, Neal said, but others will need to be persuaded. Without a concerted effort by McGrath, some could sit out the election.

“We can’t afford that when really she’s not the problem,” Neal said in an interview. “The problem is Mitch McConnell. And the game is not just winning her seat. The game is changing the Senate so that there’s a Democratic majority.”

Booker’s Senate bid surged along with national demonstrations over the deaths of Black Americans in encounters with police. He joined demonstrations in his hometown of Louisville to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in her own home.

Booker criticized McGrath during the primary while playing up his own activism. One of his campaign ads showed a segment from a debate in which McGrath was asked if she had been with protesters in Louisville. She replied she had not. Asked to explain, McGrath said: “Well, I’ve been with my family and I’ve had some family things going on.”

In another ad, Booker said it would take a “real Democrat” to defeat McConnell.

During the same debate, McGrath called the deaths of Taylor and George Floyd tragic and said leaders need to listen to the demonstrators. She later attended a vigil for Taylor and a prayer march, her campaign said.

McConnell’s campaign defended the Senate leader’s record on civil rights.

“His belief in equal and civil rights has been at the center of Leader McConnell’s career, dating back to taking part in Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s March on Washington as a congressional intern and most recently fighting to pass police reform legislation as Senate majority leader,” McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden said in a statement. “On the other hand, Amy McGrath’s own party routinely criticizes her inability to even show up.”

Credit: AP
FILE - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill, in a Tuesday, June 30, 2020 file photo, in Washington. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's prominent role in the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic has become Topic A in his bitter campaign against Democratic challenger Amy McGrath, providing fodder for both sides. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

McGrath highlighted a voter registration campaign Saturday during multiple stops in Kentucky. Much of the effort is aimed at signing up young people who traditionally vote at lower rates and racial minorities who “historically faced disenfranchisement,” she said. It also includes nonviolent felons who had their voting rights restored through an executive order by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Meanwhile, McGrath said her racial justice plan takes aim at closing the nation’s wealth gap, overhauling the criminal justice system, expanding voting rights, creating health care equity and closing the funding gap between majority white and majority nonwhite school districts.

“Patriotism means recognizing our country’s failings and working to fix them,” McGrath said. “We all need to commit to addressing long-standing racial and economic inequities in America.”

Health care remains one of the ongoing gaps between McGrath and Booker. Booker supports Medicare for All, while McGrath supports adding a public health insurance option as part of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and expanding access to Medicare for people 55 and older.

Those positions put her more in line with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.