The Emmett Till Antilynching Act passed through Congress in March, with all but three Republicans voting for it in the House of Representatives and the Senate approving it unanimously. The bill, which designates lynching as a hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison, would have gone into effect sooner if Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) didn’t singlehandedly block its passage in the summer of 2020 — just days after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minnesota.
Paul is up for reelection this year, and though he voted in favor of the version of the bill that passed earlier this year, Democrat Charles Booker is calling out his initial objection to making lynching a hate crime. Paul’s opponent, who is Black, released a campaign ad on Wednesday in which he puts a noose around his neck. “The pain of our past persists to this day,” Booker says. “In Kentucky, like many states throughout the South, lynching was a tool of terror. It was used to kill hopes for freedom. It was used to kill my ancestors.”
“My opponent?” he continues. “The very person who compared expanded health care to slavery. The person who said he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act. The person who singlehandedly blocked an anti-lynching act from becoming federal law.”
Paul did indeed equate believing in the right to health care to believing in “enslaving” doctors and other hospital workers. Paul did indeed call the Civil Rights Act into question (although he later said he would have voted for it). Paul did indeed singlehandedly block the anti-lynching bill in 2020, prompting a rash of pushback from lawmakers like Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). “This bill would cheapen the meaning of lynching by defining it so broadly as to include a minor bruise or abrasion,” Paul argued on the Senate floor.
Booker, 37, is a progressive Democrat who has represented Kentucky’s 37th District in the House since 2019. His bid to take down Paul is already his second run at the Senate. He vied for the Democratic nomination to take on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2020, but ultimately lost to moderate Democrat Amy McGrath, who wound up spending over $90 million to lose to McConnell by nearly 20 points.
Booker isn’t the first Black Senate candidate in a conservative state to employ powerful imagery in his campaign ads. Gary Chambers, who is running against Sen. John Kennedy in Louisiana smoked a blunt in an ad released earlier this year to raise awareness of the need for drug policy reform. Chambers torched a Confederate flag in another ad released a few weeks later. “I’m from North Baton Rouge, born and raised. It’s the majority Black side of town. I grew up middle class Black, and as I got older I started watching my community be divested in,” Chambers told Rolling Stone of his decision to get into politics.
Chambers and Booker may be winning the advertising game, but they’re going to have a hard time unseating the Republican incumbents. Kennedy won by 20 percentage points in 2016. Paul won by 15 points the same year.