Poll: Republican ahead in Kentucky race

Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) leads both of his Democratic opponents in the battle to replace retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), according to a new independent poll.

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Though he is known by fewer Bluegrass voters than either Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D) or Attorney General Jack Conway (D), Grayson leads both by slim margins.

Grayson outpaces Mongiardo by a 45-41 percent margin, while he leads Conway 46 percent to 40, according to the Research 2000 survey taken for the liberal Daily Kos website.

The Republican takes about three times the number of Democratic votes that either Mongiardo or Conway would win over GOP voters, and beats both by double digits among independent voters.

Republicans scored a major recruiting win when the two-term secretary of state joined the race in August. Many in Kentucky had questioned whether Bunning, who was considering running for a third term, could win, and top Republicans maneuvered to force him from the race.

But Grayson is not alone in the Republican primary. Physician Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Senate confirms two Treasury nominees over Democratic objections Liz Cheney calls for 'proportional military response' against Iran MORE (R), the son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), is also running, and he has shown the ability to raise significant cash. Aided by devotees of his father's libertarian politics, Rand Paul has already pulled in more than $813,000, according to numbers compiled on his website.

Through the end of June, after Grayson announced an exploratory committee in April, he had raised just over $600,000, and he will likely finish the third quarter of the year with a higher total than Paul's. Grayson leads Paul by a 40-25 percent margin in the new poll.

Meanwhile, Democrats are also bracing for a nasty primary.

Mongiardo, who lost to Bunning in a surprisingly close race in 2004, leads Conway by a 37-30 percent margin in the Kos poll. That’s a smaller margin than indicated in private polls.

Mongiardo and Conway harbor a dislike for each other that has been evident early in the race. Both sides have already leveled serious charges at each other, and neither is willing to step aside and allow the other candidate to win a cleared-out primary.

On Wednesday, Conway's campaign accused Mongiardo of selling access to both the lieutenant governor and to Gov. Steve Beshear (D) at a fundraiser slated for Sept. 23 in Covington. An e-mail invitation to the fundraiser suggests special “hosts” contribute $1,000 if they “would like to have access or have special needs that need to be discussed” with Beshear and Mongiardo.

Meanwhile, the Mongiardo campaign has put Conway on his heels for comments the attorney general made at a prominent Kentucky political gathering in early August.

At Fancy Farm, an event put on by a church group at which politicians routinely offer stump speeches, Conway misquoted former Sen. Wendell Ford (D), calling himself “one tough son of a b---h” (Ford said “son of a gun”). The resulting furor, stoked by Mongiardo's campaign, forced Conway to apologize for his remarks.

The primary has already caused concern among some Democrats that a wounded nominee may let a prime open-seat opportunity slip away. National Democrats made little secret of their desire to see Conway as the party's nominee, but Mongiardo has led every public and private poll so far.

Both candidates promise to raise enough money to cause the other damage. Mongiardo raised $730,000 through the end of the second quarter, while Conway pulled in $1.3 million through the same period.

Mongiardo's campaign took the opportunity to take another shot at its rival.

"Yet another independent poll shows that Daniel Mongiardo continues to hold a solid lead over his Democratic challenger Jack Conway. Furthermore, Daniel is now in a statistical tie with [the] leading Republican candidate, Trey Grayson. Clearly, Mongiardo gives Kentucky Democrats the best opportunity to take back Wendell Ford's seat," Mongiardo spokesman Kim Geveden said in a statement e-mailed to The Hill.

Conway's campaign instead said the poll showed a very different picture from the one Mongiardo has been touting in recent months.

"The field's set, so you have a jump ball game on," said Mark Riddle, Conway's campaign manager. "Daniel's been bragging around Kentucky that he has a huge lead. Looks like this thing is pretty tight with regards to undecided voters."

"We have a lot of room for growth with our continuing resource advantage," Riddle added. "We feel good about where we are."

This story was updated at 10:48 a.m. and 11:50 a.m.