Kentucky Democrats begin wait for Senate election results

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FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018, file photo, Amy McGrath speaks to supporters in Richmond, Ky. McGrath and Eliot Engel live hundreds of miles apart in states with dramatically different politics. Yet they are both the preferred candidates of the Democratic Partys Washington establishment as voters in Kentucky and New York decide their congressional primary elections on Tuesday. And both may be in trouble. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky's Democratic Senate primary went into overtime Wednesday as the candidates anxiously awaited the counting of absentee ballots to determine who will advance to challenge Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the fall campaign.

After months of voter outreach amid the coronavirus pandemic, the campaigns for Amy McGrath and Charles Booker hunkered down to await their electoral fate.

The suspense could continue until next Tuesday — a week after the election — when county clerks have to submit vote totals to the secretary of state’s office.

“It’s almost like we’re at 7:30 on election night," longtime Kentucky political commentator Al Cross said Wednesday. “And we’re not having election night, we’re having election week.”

All absentee ballots had to be postmarked by primary election day and received by county clerks’ offices by June 27 — the Saturday after the election — to be counted. The state allowed widespread mail-in absentee voting because of the coronavirus pandemic. But in-person voting was also allowed, and many Kentuckians went to the polls Tuesday.

Early results showed McGrath, a retired Marine pilot backed by the party's national establishment, leading Booker by about 4,000 votes in limited statewide returns. They were far ahead of the pack of other Democratic candidates.

On the day after the primary election, both campaigns looked for signs from the slivers of returns that could foreshadow the eventual outcome.

Booker's campaign said it was encouraged by returns showing a tight race. With much of the vote in the state's two largest cities still out, he hopes to benefit from a late surge.