In a new campaign ad against Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Democratic candidate Charles Booker is seen wearing a noose as he criticizes Paul for blocking a bill to make lynching a federal hate crime.
"The pain of our past persists to this day," Booker says in the ad, which opens with a content warning for "strong imagery."
"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," the former state lawmaker goes on, appearing in a suit jacket, button-down shirt and tie, holding 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."
"My opponent?" he says as an image of Paul appears. "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 single-handedly blocked an anti-lynching act from being federal law."
"The choice couldn't be clearer," Booker says. "Do we move forward together or do we let politicians like Rand Paul forever hold us back and drive us apart?"
As he removes the noose, he concludes: "In November, we will choose healing. We will choose Kentucky."
In March, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act into law after the Senate voted unanimously to pass it.
It is named after a Black teenager whose brutal murder in Mississippi in 1955 became a crucial moment in the civil rights movement. Till's mother insisted on an open casket to show the world what had been done to her son.
Paul opposed a previous version of the bill in 2020 because he said he believed the legislation was drafted too broadly and could define minor assaults as lynching. He went on to co-sponsor the bipartisan version that was introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., which is now law.
During a 2011 Senate hearing in which Paul, a physician, opposed the expansion of health care under then-President Barack Obama, he compared the "right to health care" to slavery.
"With regard to the idea whether or not you have a right to health care, you have to realize what that implies," Paul said at the time. "I am a physician, that means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you are going to enslave not only me but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses. … You are basically saying you believe in slavery."