Booker brands GOP Sen. Rand Paul as ‘barrier’ to progress

Democrat Charles Booker railed against Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul as a “barrier” to progress Monday night as he made a pitch to Kentucky voters in a solo appearance on statewide television.

Booker, a former state lawmaker, touted his plans to expand health care access, stoutly defended his support for abortion rights and said policymakers must deal with “climate chaos” that he linked to monster storms hitting Kentucky and other parts of the country.

With about a month left in the fall campaign, the Democratic challenger was the lone Senate hopeful to appear on the candidate program on Kentucky Educational Television. Paul, who is seeking a third Senate term, was invited but did not participate in the program.

Booker took advantage of monopolizing the time, saying Paul had “turned his back” on voters.

“He has voted against expanding health care,” Booker said. “He’s voted against infrastructure. He’s voted against local governments. He’s been our barrier and we need to remove him so that we can win our future.”

Booker is the first Black Kentuckian in state history to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. Best known for his “hood to the holler” theme in hopes of forging an urban-rural coalition, Booker said he’s built grassroots support that includes people who have been ignored, marginalized and abandoned.

“That’s not about party,” he said. “That’s about humanity.”

Booker also took on the issue of climate change in coal-producing Kentucky.

“These historic, unprecedented storms — having a 1,000-year flood that hit communities that were never in a flood plain — these things are not happenstance,” he said. “So we cannot look away from them, or call them a myth or a joke like Rand Paul would.”

Portions of eastern Kentucky were inundated by historic flooding this summer.

Kentucky hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in three decades. Tapping into the power of incumbency, Paul has amassed a lopsided fundraising advantage over Booker, and the GOP senator has dipped into his campaign treasury to air a series of TV ads touting his conservative credentials.

Paul is a libertarian-leaning conservative first elected to the Senate in the tea party-driven wave of 2010. Paul, a former presidential candidate, rails against socialism and big-government programs he says encroach on individual liberties and drive up the nation’s debt. The senator also denounces what he views as government overreach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Booker is a progressive who promotes such social programs as Medicare for All and a basic universal income. He also supports a clean-energy agenda and criminal justice changes.

Booker said Monday night that his platform comes from his “lived experience.” He has talked about growing up poor and having to ration his insulin in the past.

“This is not about radical proposals,” he said of his agenda. “It’s about saying we deserve better. We deserve to live a good life, a good-paying union job. We deserve to be able to take care of our families and have health care.”

This year’s top-of-the-ticket Senate race in Kentucky has at times seemed to be overshadowed by the state’s emerging 2023 governor’s race. Several Republican hopefuls are jockeying for advantage in what’s shaping up as an intensely competitive GOP gubernatorial primary next spring. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is seeking a second term.

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