Poll: Lundergan Grimes leads the pack

A new survey of the Kentucky Senate race shows Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes leading both Republicans in the race, though it remains a tight battle nine months out from Election Day.

The Bluegrass Poll, conducted for WKYT-TV, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and WHAS-TV, finds the Kentucky secretary of State taking 46 percent support to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 42 percent among registered Kentucky voters.

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McConnell’s Republican primary challenger, Matt Bevin, fares similarly, taking 38 percent to Lundergan Grimes’s 43 percent support.

The senator has been able to hold onto steady support in a primary matchup; the new survey shows him taking 55 percent support to Bevin’s 29 percent support among registered Republicans.

Bevin's campaign adviser Sarah Durand said the poll results are an indication voters are "rejecting McConnell and his big-government record," and suggested there's an opening for Bevin.

"As Kentucky voters learn more about Matt Bevin and his conservative vision for America, our campaign's momentum will continue to grow. We look forward to a historic victory in May," she said.

Still, conservatives saw the poll as evidence McConnell can't win in the general election, and Bevin should take his place.

"New #KYsen poll w/ McConnell down by 4 confirms what we've been saying — Mitch McConnell is unelectable and should retire," tweeted the Senate Conservatives Fund, a national conservative group that's backing Bevin in the race.

Lundergan Grimes's campaign said the poll results reflect the reality of the race, which they're seeing at campaign stops across Kentucky.

"Tonight's poll results mirror what our campaign sees as we travel across the Commonwealth: Kentuckians are ready for a United States Senator who will finally put people above partisanship. In the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will be a champion for Kentucky's middle-class families," said campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton.

The survey shows that McConnell remains deeply unpopular in the state, numbers that have given Democrats hope of picking up the seat in November. A full 60 percent of voters disapprove of the job he’s doing as senator, while 51 percent have an unfavorable view of him.

While McConnell’s reputation appears set in stone, Lundergan Grimes’s is in flux this early in the race. About a third of respondents view her each favorably (26 percent), unfavorably (27 percent) and 29 percent are neutral toward her at this point. Eighteen percent have no opinion.

That means Republicans still have time to define Lundergan Grimes before she’s able to define herself, and it’s likely GOP outside groups will ramp up their attacks on the candidate as the campaign wears on.

The new polling is the first out since October that shows her with a clear lead, and the first since August that gives her a lead outside the margin of error. It comes off another strong fundraising quarter for the Democrat, which saw her nearly pace McConnell in fundraising, bringing in $2.1 million — a number that puts her at the top tier of Democratic fundraisers in the fourth quarter.

Still, McConnell has traditionally suffered from a low approval rating in Kentucky, and it remains to be seen whether this time it's low enough to force him out of the seat he's held for nearly three decades.

And McConnell's campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said the team is "very confident about where this race stands and extremely confident that Senator McConnell will earn the votes of Kentuckians this Fall."

"The contrast between Mitch McConnell's conservative accomplishments for Kentucky and Alison Lundergan Grimes's alliance with President Obama's agenda of ObamaCare and the war on coal will become very clear to everyone over the next nine months," she said.

The survey was conducted among 1,082 registered voters, including 404 registered Republican primary voters, from Jan. 30-Feb. 2. The overall results have a margin of error of plus or minus three points, while the GOP primary results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 points.

—This piece was updated on Friday.