With less than 100 days to go before Election Day, the latest poll shows incumbent U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell with a 2 percentage point lead over challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.
The Bluegrass Poll is based upon a survey taken by Survey USA of 714 registered Kentucky voters, and was sponsored by The Courier-Journal, WHAS-TV, The Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV. The poll found that if the race were held today, 47 percent of likely voters supported McConnell to 45 percent for Grimes, with 8 percent still undecided.
This is the first time McConnell has led in this poll, which found him trailing Grimes by 4 points in February and 1 point in May. There remains the potential that Libertarian David Patterson will enter this race, but he has not as of yet turned in the required signatures to be placed on the ballot.
In what will likely be a record-setting campaign in terms of money spent – estimates are over $100 million – it’s currently a statistical dead heat, as the plus/minus margin for error on this poll is 3.6 percent.
In reality this race hasn’t actually taken off yet. There are a few ads by each candidate, and some from outside political action committees, but neither campaign has cranked into full election mode.
Likely it will be after this weekend, when the dust settles from the Aug. 2 annual Fancy Farm political picnic in far western Kentucky, that this Senate race begins in earnest.
Various meanings can be drawn from the numbers within this poll. If you are McConnell it’s always a good thing to be leading, but there are two big indicators that spell trouble for the sitting Senate Minority Leader.
One, he still hasn’t garnered 50 percent of the electorate. For a 30-year incumbent not to have at least 50 percent support at this point is concerning. Secondly, McConnell’s personal approval numbers remain dismal. Only 36 percent viewed McConnell as favorable, while 43 percent viewed him as unfavorable.
That kind of number for a guy like Mitch will get you beat. The other issue clearly dogging McConnell is his statement that it is not his job to bring employment to Kentucky. Appearing in Beattyville on April 24, McConnell was asked by The Beattyville Enterprise what he was going to do to bring jobs to Lee County. This was a quick interview in a hallway before the senator was to address a political luncheon, but uncharacteristically for this veteran politician McConnell said, “Economic development is a Frankfort issue. That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet.”
I don’t know what kind of bee was in his bonnet, but that kind of pass-the-buck response in a state where coal jobs are dwindling and unemployment is at 7.7 percent, well above the national average, is hurtful, and Grimes is rightfully beating McConnell over the head with it.
This showed in the poll, as respondents were asked whom they trusted more to create jobs, and Grimes won out with 41 percent to McConnell’s 37 percent.
For Grimes, she should feel good that McConnell has spent $30 million thus far and yet remains basically tied. Her favorability is in the positive, and somewhat surprisingly she is on the winning side of the abortion issue, as 43 percent to 39 percent of Kentuckians support leaving the law in its current form. Troubling is that she only leads McConnell by one point with female voters, and that her overall support has declined in each poll after initially leading by 4 points.
There is plenty of time yet, and neither candidate has fully staked out their political stands. Folks just aren’t ready to pay close attention quite yet, so there is no reason, especially for Grimes, to turn that heat up quite yet.
Admittedly, there is less chance that core McConnell supporters will change their vote – what Grimes is looking for is a way to make his typical voters stay home on Election Day. Not voting is a vote for Grimes.
I get McConnell’s people want to draw the comparison that Grimes is essentially Obama, but this is kind of like the partisan obstruction strategy chiefly put in place by McConnell for the Republican Party in Congress. It’s not pretty, it’s not popular, and it’s counterproductive. Eventually you have to step up and stand for something. This strategy has failed in two high-profile elections. Ask former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former Republican Rep. Eric Cantor – obstructionism and just being against everything, without offering viable solutions to problems eventually gets you beat.
What this poll is starting to show is a tightening of core support. Well over 80 percent of the likely electorate appears to have decided how they are going to cast their ballots. This leaves the 3.6 percent margin of error voters, and the 8 percent of undecided or swing voters that still are up for grabs. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million is about to get spent on wooing those votes over the next 98 days.
It’s all about voter turnout. Buckle up folks, this is going to be a tight one.