A new survey shows momentum in the Kentucky Senate race is moving in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) favor, and for the first time this year he leads Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
While McConnell's 2-point lead is within the poll's 4-point margin of error, making it a statistical tie, it marks a consistent decline in support for Grimes in the Bluegrass Poll, which showed her up 4 percent in February and 1 percent in May.
In the newest survey, conducted among 604 likely voters from July 18-23 via landline and cell phone, McConnell maintains his 2-point lead even with libertarian David Patterson in the matchup, who has announced his bid but hasn’t yet filed the necessary signatures to be included on the ballot.
In that three-way matchup, McConnell takes 41 percent, Grimes takes 39 percent and Patterson gets 7 percent support, while 13 percent are undecided.
The poll has further good news for McConnell: His popularity has improved somewhat, though he remains underwater with Kentuckians.
He’s seen favorably by just 36 percent of registered voters, while 43 percent view him unfavorably; that’s a slight improvement from May, when his split was 29-49 favorable-unfavorable.
Conversely, Grimes’ standing in the state appears to have taken a hit from a barrage of outside attacks from a duo of groups supporting McConnell, Kentuckians for Strong Leadership and Kentucky Opportunity Coalition. Grimes is seen favorably by 36 percent of Kentuckians, about the same as in May, but she’s now seen unfavorably by 33 percent of Kentuckians, up from 27 percent in May.
Much of the groups’ attacks have aimed at tying Grimes to President Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the state. But Democrats have seen the race as competitive because of McConnell’s own low popularity, which in some polls has been lower than or the same as Obama’s.
In this poll, however, Obama is less popular than McConnell. Twenty-eight percent of respondents view him favorably, while 55 percent view him unfavorably.
And the survey indicates those attacks from GOP groups, which have focused largely on Obama’s energy policies and their impact on Kentucky’s coal industry, are hitting the right spot: Forty-three percent of registered voters say they trust McConnell to strike the right balance between protecting the coal industry and protecting the environment, while 39 percent say the same of Grimes.
Potentially troubling for Grimes is the two are running about even with female voters, who are seen as key to Democrats’ chances of picking up the seat. But Grimes may have an opening on abortion, as a plurality of respondents, 43 percent, say they’d like to keep federal abortion laws the way they are, rather than restricting access to abortion, while 39 percent say the opposite.
McConnell supports a ban on abortions at 20 weeks, a widely held GOP position, while Grimes opposes changes to the law.
While McConnell is seen as Republicans' most vulnerable incumbent this cycle, the Bluegrass Poll underscores how difficult the road ahead of Democrats is, with Kentucky's political climate favoring the GOP.
McConnell's campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said that race will be about "the very simple reality that Barack Obama needs Alison Lundergan Grimes to implement his agenda, and Kentucky needs Mitch McConnell to implement ours."
"Alison Lundergan Grimes can replicate Obama's false ads, but she obviously can't convince Kentuckians that they should trade in Senator McConnell's record of accomplishments for another Obama vote in the Senate," she said in a statement.
But the Grimes campaign dismissed the results as the inevitable outcome of the offensive effort they were expecting — and campaign manager Jonathan Hurst said they were "unimpressed."
"For over a year we've run a restrained, disciplined campaign, waiting to see the best Darth Vader's supposed 'presidential-level campaign' could deliver. To date, we remain unimpressed and well-positioned to use our multi-million dollar war chest to fire with both barrels through Fancy Farm and into Election Day," he said. "The senior senator and his Washington cronies have spent $30 million to eke out a tie, but his 30-year Washington record remains a dead weight on his reelection effort."