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Kentucky Senate race pits establishment-leaning candidate against Lexington business owner who bucked COVID rules

Timothy D. Easley/AP
FR43398 AP
Signs, some with personal messages promoting the impeachment of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, line the walkway and lawn of the State Capitol building in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

A Central Kentucky GOP primary race has the attention of political observers, watching to see if the insurgent politics that gained steam amid the COVID-19 pandemic could be gaining ground against more establishment-minded Republicans.

Thursday night, incumbent Republican State Senator Donald Douglas went face-to-face with challenger Andrew Cooperrider, a Lexington coffee shop owner who rose to prominence over his defiance of state COVID protocols and tried to get Gov. Andy Beshear impeached.

The debate, held by the Republican Party of Jessamine County, put a spotlight on the candidates’ differing approaches to governing.

"I think that Dr. Douglas... cares more about what Frankfort thinks about him than what his district thinks about him. I think that's a big issue. I think you should be accountable to your voters, not your colleague in Frankfort."
Andrew Cooperrider, Senate candidate and business owner (on WLEX)

"I want to bring everybody together, not just at socioeconomic levels, but also the racial divide, and I want to bridge that Republican and Democrat divide, Douglas told WLEX.

While both can tout their GOP bonafides — describing themselves as Christian, pro-life, and pro-gun — Cooperrider’s more defiant style puts him in what's become known as the “Liberty” movement in politics.

Whereas both oppose COVID vaccine mandates, for example, it’s Cooperrider who believes state Republicans should have gone further, passing a bill that would have put restrictions on certain employers when it comes to asking about employees’ vaccination status.

The winner of the fast-approaching May primary could indicate whether Kentucky Republicans want to break even further from establishment-style politics. The victor will face Chuck Eddy, who is running unopposed on the Democratic side in the 22 District.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.