WASHINGTON — Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who built a formidable campaign war chest, emerged Tuesday as the Democratic nominee to take on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, fending off a challenge from the left that highlighted the party’s ideological divisions.
In Colorado, John Hickenlooper, the state’s former governor, survived a rough campaign to win his Democratic Senate primary, propelling him to a general election challenge to Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican and top target for Democrats looking to capture control of the Senate.
And in Oklahoma, voters narrowly approved expanding Medicaid coverage to at least 200,000 lower-income adults, according to The Associated Press, an affirmation of Obamacare in an overwhelmingly Republican state. The results, coming as the state battles the coronavirus pandemic, was a repudiation of President Trump and Republican state leaders who had opposed the Medicaid expansion and who supported a court case seeking to overturn President Barack Obama’s signature health care plan.
One week after the Kentucky primary was conducted, The A.P. declared Ms. McGrath the winner after a campaign that was shaped by the coronavirus pandemic and protests against racial injustice. She narrowly defeated Charles Booker, an African-American state lawmaker who harnessed anger over a pair of fatal shootings by the authorities in Louisville to roar into contention in the final weeks of the campaign.
Ms. McGrath, though, had raised over $40 million by the start of June and built up a sizable advantage even before Primary Day because many voters cast absentee ballots to avoid the polls and the risk of contracting the coronavirus. She was helped by the presence of other Democrats on the ballot, including another progressive who garnered about 5 percent of the vote.
But Mr. Booker’s late surge in what had been a relatively tranquil nominating contest was another illustration of progressive momentum in the Democratic Party, as outrage over racial injustice amplifies the calls for transformative change. An unabashed progressive, Mr. Booker ran on “Medicare for all” and the Green New Deal.
In Colorado’s Senate race, Andrew Romanoff, a former state House speaker, drew organizational and financial support from many liberal Democrats across the country as he challenged Mr. Hickenlooper. But Mr. Hickenlooper, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination, had the strong backing of national Democrats who thought he would be the strongest candidate to run against the vulnerable Mr. Gardner.
Mr. Hickenlooper’s campaign was marked by a series of missteps, which had given Republicans a glimmer of hope. The state ethics commission held him in contempt for defying a subpoena to appear at a hearing over a complaint against him, and found that he had violated the state’s gift ban while he was governor by accepting rides on a private jet and in a limousine.
But he now appears to be in a relatively strong position as he enters what is almost certain to be one of the marquee Senate battles of the fall.
Also in Colorado, Lauren Boebert, a political novice and gun-rights activist, claimed an upset primary victory on Tuesday against Representative Scott Tipton, a five-term incumbent endorsed by Mr. Trump.
Ms. Boebert, 33, owns a restaurant in Rifle, Colo., and has gained attention in recent days for keeping it open in defiance of state orders tied to the pandemic — at least until a sheriff obtained a cease-and-desist order against her.
And in Oklahoma, the Medicaid ballot measure that passed on Tuesday was the latest Democratic-led push on health care to succeed in a red state, following other efforts in states including Utah, Nebraska, Idaho and Maine, which at the time had a Republican governor and is now led by a Democrat. Thirteen other states, mostly in the South, have not yet expanded Medicaid.
Republicans have often fought such measures because of financial worries and their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which stipulates that the federal government cover most of the cost of any Medicaid expansion. Oklahoma voters were the first to expand the program via a constitutional amendment, which proponents say will prevent interference by Gov. Kevin Stitt or his fellow Republicans in the State Legislature. Missouri will hold a similar vote on Aug. 4.
In Utah on Tuesday, the former Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. was facing off against the state’s lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox, in a primary election ahead of a Republican race for governor. That contest had not been called as of early Wednesday. It was not clear until Tuesday that Ms. McGrath had won in Kentucky because a number of counties waited to ensure they had counted their many mailed-in ballots before releasing results.
In a statement after The A.P. called the race, Ms. McGrath said that Mr. Booker had “tapped into and amplified the energy and anger of so many who are fed up with the status quo” and urged her party to come together to win in November.
“The differences that separate Democrats are nothing compared to the chasm that exists between us and the politics and actions of Mitch McConnell,” she said.
Mr. Booker, too, would have found a race against Mr. McConnell difficult. In choosing Ms. McGrath, however, Kentucky Democrats are hewing to a careful course, putting forth a well-funded political moderate with military credentials in a red state.
Mr. Booker, who ran as an outspoken progressive, argued that such an approach had been tried before and was doomed for failure. Winning the support of local newspapers and out-of-state liberal leaders like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Mr. Booker tapped into fury over the killings of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee to jolt what had been a quiet race conducted mostly under the radar until the last month.
Ms. Taylor was shot eight times after Louisville police officers entered her apartment with a battering ram. Mr. McAtee was shot at his barbecue stand in Louisville as the police and National Guard confronted curfew violators.
Mr. Booker conceded the race Tuesday evening and urged Democrats to “dedicate to the work of beating Mitch,” even as he noted that some voters had trouble casting ballots during the pandemic and raised questions about some absentee ballots not being counted.
In his statement, Mr. Booker barely mentioned Ms. McGrath — except to say the race wasn’t “about me and Amy” — but he implicitly swiped at her campaign. “We’ve proven you don’t have to pretend to be a Republican to run as a Democrat in Kentucky, and that people want big, bold solutions,” he said.
Establishment-aligned national Democrats, led by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, had effectively sought to coronae Ms. McGrath last year. By virtue of the large fund-raising list she built in her failed 2018 House race, and the contempt Democratic donors have for Mr. McConnell, they viewed her as someone who could run competitively and perhaps force Republicans to divert money to Kentucky.
She will still have ample cash for her race against Mr. McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term, but her uneven performance as a candidate, first in 2018 and again in this primary, has raised doubts about how strong of a campaign she will run in the general election.
Ms. McGrath’s prospects depend in part on how close a race former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. can run in Kentucky against Mr. Trump. If Mr. Biden can substantially cut into the margin Mr. Trump enjoyed there in 2016, it will offer her a better chance to win. That’s because in this polarized era, there are relatively few voters who are willing to split their tickets, in this case voting for Mr. Trump and then a Democratic Senate candidate.
Her challenge is compounded by Mr. McConnell’s stronger standing among Republicans. After facing mistrust on the right in the Tea Party era, Mr. McConnell has improved his popularity with Kentucky Republicans by largely aligning himself with Mr. Trump.
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