Mongiardo leads tough primary in own poll

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D) leads his main primary rival by double digits in an early poll conducted by the Democrat's Senate campaign.

Mongiardo, who came within a whisker of pulling off a stunning upset over Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) in 2004, leads Attorney General Jack Conway (D) by a 43 percent to 28 percent margin. Twenty-nine percent of registered Democrats remain undecided.

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Mongiardo is not the favorite of national and establishment Kentucky Democrats, who have largely sided with Conway. Democratic Reps. Ben Chandler and John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthThe politics and practicalities of impeachment Progressives seek defense freeze in budget talks On The Money: Wells Fargo chief gets grilling | GOP, Pence discuss plan to defeat Dem emergency resolution | House chair sees '50-50' chance of passing Dem budget | Trump faces pressure over Boeing MORE, state Auditor Crit Luallen (D) and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson (D) all endorsed Conway at the attorney general's announcement last month.

But Mongiardo has backing from Gov. Steve Beshear (D), with whom he ran on a successful ticket in 2007. That, along with strong roots in rural eastern Kentucky and name recognition from his 2004 bid against Bunning, could help Mongiardo build an early lead.

"Kentucky Democrats want someone with a record of standing up for working families — whether in Louisville, Hazard or Paducah — and that’s why grassroots Democrats are supporting Daniel Mongiardo," campaign spokesman Kim Geveden said. "Whether fighting for affordable healthcare, clean Kentucky coal, or taking on Jim Bunning in 2004, Daniel Mongiardo has shown that regardless of the odds, he will fight hard to improve the lives of Kentucky families."

The grass roots-versus-establishment argument is one the lieutenant governor has relied on so far. Mongiardo allies privately complain that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is backing Conway; in a May 7 interview on MSNBC, DSCC Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange William Barr is right man for the times MORE (D-N.J.) singled out Conway, along with other top Democratic recruits in Missouri, Florida and New Hampshire, without mentioning Mongiardo.

“There is an old Kentucky saying that liars figure and figures lies," said Mark Riddle, Conway’s campaign manager. "A polling sub sample of 336 interviews in a major statewide election is not considered credible. It has a wildly high margin of error."

Either candidate will be a strong contender against Bunning or whoever the Republican nominee is next year. Bunning insists he is running, though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump: Green New Deal 'the most preposterous thing' and 'easy to beat' 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight MORE (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left MORE (Texas) have raised public doubts about Bunning's willingness to mount a campaign.

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In an escalating feud, Bunning has used a weekly conference call to repeatedly blast his seatmate, most recently accusing McConnell of leading the GOP "to the wrong direction." "If Mitch McConnell doesn't endorse me, that may be the best thing that could happen to me in Kentucky," Bunning said last week.

McConnell, who won reelection in 2008 by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin, is widely considered the most respected Republican in Kentucky. He has not endorsed his junior colleague.

Bunning raised just $263,000 in the first three months of 2009, less than the $430,000 Mongiardo raised in half that time after announcing he would run for the seat. Conway entered the race in April, after first-quarter fundraising reports were due.

The poll, taken by Mongiardo consultant Garin-Hart-Yang for the Kentuckian's campaign, surveyed 336 registered Democrats on May 12 and 13. A sample that size carries with it a margin of error of plus or minus 5.4 percent.