A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rural Blog: Booker says liberals must listen to rural conservatives, find commonality, build relationships


First-term state Rep. Charles Booker of Louisville, an African American who nearly won the nomination to face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, told The New York Times that progressives need to “show up and listen” to rural conservatives who like President Trump if they want to build a winning coalition in the Democratic Party.

“What I tell folks is that, honestly, we should take some notes from a Donald Trump — being careful when you do,” Booker said in a transcribed interview. “He called out that the system is broken, and he spoke to people that, for a long time, felt like nobody even knew they existed.

Charles Booker

“Now, he was stoking hatred and racism and weaponizing it, but one of the truths there is that the system is broken. And if we go to those places that are deep red, and we show up and listen, but lean into our values, you can build relationships that way.”

He prefaced that by saying, “Regardless of what your political ideology is, especially in a place like Kentucky, everybody’s broke and everybody’s struggling and everybody’s trying to figure out how to keep food on the table, keep the lights, take care of their family and protect their livelihood.”

Kentucky is only 8.4 percent Black, and has many rural areas with hardly any African Americans, but Booker said he had no problem “building support in rural parts of Kentucky. I spent the majority of my campaign explaining how a Black person can win in rural parts of Kentucky and how the issue of rationing insulin is not partisan. And so when I tell my story of nearly dying from diabetic ketoacidosis, and explaining that’s why I fully support Medicare for all — because nobody should die because they don’t have money in their pocket — people get it.”

Booker got 42.6 percent of the vote in a 10-way primary won by Amy McGrath, who got 45.4 percent after raising more than $41 million, the most of any Senate candidate this year. “The real determinant in our race was money,” he told the Times. Many political observers said Booker would have won if most the votes had been cast on primary-election day; most were absentee due to the pandemic, which also caused the election to be delayed for five weeks.

During that period, Booker’s campaign caught fire due to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and resulting protests, which in Kentucky focused on a police killing during execution of a no-knock warrant in Louisville.

The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.


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