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 YarmuthEx-DCCC official: McGrath comments on Kavanaugh vote not 'a death sentence' Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' Pelosi scolds Democrats for public barbs 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) MenendezDem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate passes .5B border bill, setting up fight with House Senate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week 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 McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John CornynJohn CornynGOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand On The Money: Mnuchin warns US could hit debt limit in early September | Acosta out as Labor chief | Trump pitches trade deal in Wisconsin | FTC reportedly settles with Facebook for B fine 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.