Two African American candidates seized the momentum in recent weeks as the nation grappled with the question of racial justice and earned a groundswell of support in Democratic primaries on Tuesday — one in Kentucky and the other in New York — that could propel them to upset victories.

Charles Booker, a state legislator, was locked in a close race with retired Marine Corps fighter pilot Amy McGrath, a top recruit of national Democrats, for the chance to wage a long-shot bid against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“We are bending the arc of our future right now in real time,” Booker told supporters. “We are redefining the course of Kentucky in real time. In fact, we are redefining the course of our country. The entire country is watching us right now.”

McGrath acknowledged it was unlikely the race would be decided Tuesday night.

“As eager as we all are to get results, I am grateful for the extra effort and due diligence to make sure every voice is heard and every vote is counted,” she said in a statement. “As we wait for results, I hope everyone takes a moment to get a little rest, recharge your battery, and buckle up for what’s next. The mission to defeat Mitch McConnell and defend our democracy goes on.”

As of 11 p.m., McGrath was leading Booker 45 percent to 36 with 51 percent of precincts reporting, but the results did not include Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, where Booker is expected to perform best.

In New York, Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal, took an early lead against longtime Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who was elected to the House in 1988.

Both Booker and Bowman ran to the left of their more moderate opponents and have been embraced by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, including securing endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

A third African American candidate was leading in a seven-way primary to replace retiring Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.). If Mondaire Jones wins the seat, he’d be the first openly gay black man in Congress.

Race calls were unlikely Tuesday night, as the states received significantly more mail-in ballots than normal because of the coronavirus pandemic. Both primaries were postponed from earlier dates because of the public health crisis.

Engel wasn’t the only longtime incumbent in a close race.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), who heads the House Oversight Committee, held a narrow lead over Suraj Patel, a hotel executive and former Obama campaign staffer. The contest was a rematch from 2018 for the 14-term Maloney, who won it then by 19 points.

In one outcome Tuesday, Madison Cawthorn, just 24 years old, beat Lynda Bennett to secure the GOP nomination for a North Carolina House seat left vacant by Mark Meadows (R), who became White House chief of staff. President Trump and Meadows had endorsed Bennett.

Meadows had nominated Cawthorn to the U.S. Naval Academy in 2014, but he never attended because he was partially paralyzed in a near-fatal car accident and is in a wheelchair. He is likely to win the conservative district in November, which would make him the first member of Congress to start the job at 25 — the youngest allowed — since 1977.

In a tweet about a month ago, Cawthorn wrote: “If you elect me I will boldly, and passionately defend our values and traditions in Washington DC. I will not cower in fear behind big names and outside money.”

The performance of Booker and Bowman will be one of the first real-world indicators of how deeply the national reckoning on race has resonated with voters nearly a month after the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in police custody. Both candidates have criticized their top opponents for not prioritizing issues that directly affect black communities.

In Kentucky’s most populous cities, Louisville and Lexington, Booker seemed to have all the momentum.

Jeremy Horton, 50, a filmmaker, said he was supporting Booker and challenged the notion that you have to be a conservative Democrat to win Kentucky statewide.

“Mitch McConnell, he’s a monster campaigner. And it’s going to be an uphill battle for anybody. But people vote for conviction over policy,” Horton said. “You can’t beat momentum and a good storm. Amy McGrath has run a strong fundraising campaign. But that only takes you so far.”

Booker, born and raised in the poorest area of Louisville, rose as a natural leader for the city as it grieved and protested the death of Breonna Taylor, a black medical technician who was killed by police in her home.

Booker, who says Taylor was a family friend, spoke passionately at those demonstrations about his own lived experience with generational poverty and racial injustice.

A race that was supposed to be a sure thing for McGrath, who had raised $41 million to take on McConnell, became immensely competitive in the final weeks. While Booker seized a moment tailor-made for his message, McGrath stumbled and struggled to explain why it took her weeks to show up at one of the protests.

Because Booker’s rise came so late in the race, he may have lost out on potential voters who cast their ballots early, either by mail or in person.

Voting on Election Day was also less convenient than in previous years, with polling locations reduced from the usual 3,700 to fewer than 200 due to a shortage of poll workers amid the pandemic.

Julie Heinz, 27, voted in person because she said she’d kept putting off requesting an absentee ballot. She voted for Booker, whom she said she thinks has a good chance of winning, but said she’ll support McGrath if he doesn’t.

“I’d vote for day-old roadkill over Mitch McConnell,” she said. “At least day-old roadkill can feed a family of four.”

In the north Bronx and southern Westchester County, Bowman is seeking to replicate Ocasio-Cortez’s success two years ago when she unseated the fourth-ranked Democrat, Joseph Crowley.

Bowman repeatedly hit Engel over his absence from New York as the coronavirus ravaged the city. But Bowman started getting a more serious look after Engel was caught on a hot mic during a news conference, urging organizers to let him speak about Floyd’s death and protests, saying, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”

At a polling location in the east Bronx, 21-year-old Dacia Sue, a first-timer voter, said she was motivated to vote for Bowman in part because of Engel’s comment.

“For him to say that the Black Lives Movement, like that if he didn’t have … a primary right now, he wouldn’t care, it’s, like, surprising to me. It’s, like, all right, just for you to say that out loud is crazy,” Sue said. “So I was like, yeah, I’m just going to vote against you.”Voters in New York are also picking a replacement for former Rep. Chris Collins (R), who was found guilty of 26 counts of insider trading.

Among the other races Tuesday, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) easily defeated Todd McMurtry, who for a time seemed to have a shot after Trump repudiated Massie and suggested he should be thrown out of the GOP. The criticism stemmed from Massie forcing more than half the House to return to Washington for a voice vote on the $2 trillion Cares Act amid health warnings that lawmakers should steer clear of gathering in large numbers.

Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a senior member of GOP leadership, and Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) donated to McMurtry’s campaign as a sign of revolt against Massie, whose libertarian ways have often irked national security hawks such as Cheney and Turner.

But they soon retracted their endorsements and demanded refunds when Massie’s campaign unearthed old McMurtry tweets that were racist and demeaning toward Mexicans and transgender people.

Trump never spoke of Massie again, staying neutral in the race and giving the four-term lawmaker breathing room despite the late March controversy.

Itkowitz reported from Washington, and Wood and DePaolo from Kentucky. Kayla Ruble in New York and Paul Kane in New Jersey contributed to this report.