In a provocative and controversial push, the Democratic Senate nominee who’s challenging Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky in November’s midterm election wears a noose in a new ad criticizing Paul’s past opposition to a measure to make lynching a federal hate crime.
But the spot, by former state lawmaker Charles Booker, makes no mention that Paul later supported an updated anti-lynching bill that is now law.
“The pain of our past persists to this day. In Kentucky, like many states throughout the South, lynching was a tool of terror. It was used to kill hopes for freedom,” Booker, who is Black, says in the ad released Wednesday.
“It was used to kill my ancestors,” Booker emphasizes, as the spot reveals the candidate with a noose around his neck. “Now, in a historic victory for our commonwealth, I have become the first Black Kentuckian to receive the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.”
Taking aim at Paul, a former Republican presidential candidate who’s running this year for a third six-year term representing Kentucky in the Senate, Booker argues that the senator is “the person who single-handedly blocked an anti-lynching act from being federal law.”
Paul in 2020 held up legislation that would have made lynching a federal hate crime, saying at the time he was worried it could be applied too broadly. But the senator went on to co-sponsor the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, which was authored by Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. The bill passed the Senate three months ago and is now federal law.
“In the end, I think the compromise language will hopefully keep us from incarcerating somebody for some kind of crime that’s not lynching,” Paul said in March in an interview with the Louisville Courier. “We just wanted to make sure that the punishment was proportional to the crime, and I guess it’s just good news that it finally worked out.”
The law is named in honor of Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old in Mississippi whose horrific lynching death in 1955 helped increase support for the nation’s civil rights movement.
“Dr. Paul worked diligently with senators Booker and Scott to strengthen the language of this legislation and is a cosponsor of the bill that now ensures that federal law will define lynching as the absolutely heinous crime that it is,” Paul deputy campaign manager Jake Cox said in a statement. “Any attempt to state otherwise is a desperate misrepresentation of the facts.”
Booker, a former state representative, narrowly lost the 2020 Democratic Senate nomination in Kentucky to Amy McGrath. Booker, once a long shot for the 2020 nomination against the establishment favorite McGrath, saw his campaign surge amid protests in Kentucky and nationwide over police brutality against minorities and systemic racism.
McGrath lost in the 2020 general election by nearly 20 points to longtime Senate GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Making a second bid for the Senate this year, Booker won nearly three-quarters of the vote in the May 17 Democratic primary over three lesser-known rivals. Booker is seen as the underdog in the general election in the red state of Kentucky, which hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in nearly three decades.
In his spot, which contains a viewer discretion advisory, Booker charges that “the choice couldn’t be clearer. Do we move forward together or do we let politicians like Rand Paul forever hold us back and drive us apart? In November, we will choose healing. We will choose Kentucky.”