LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – As the candidates enter their final stretch of campaigning before Tuesday’s primary, a Bluegrass Poll finds Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democrat Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in the lead to capture their parties’ nominations to go head-to-head in November.
The poll – conducted for WKYT-TV, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and WHAS-TV – also found the potential McConnell-Grimes match-up would be a close one. Of the 2,000 Kentucky adults interviewed by phone May 14-16, 43 percent would vote for Grimes compared to 42 percent for McConnell.
The senate minority leader’s first hurdle is Tuesday’s Republican primary which the Bluegrass Poll found McConnell with a 20 percentage point lead over his next closest Republican opponent, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin.
Kentucky’s primary has gained national attention as a barometer to see how much influence the Tea Party wields in its efforts to oust several long-time incumbent congressional Republicans. McConnell is expected to win Tuesday’s Republican primary, but if Bevin captures a significant percentage it may bode well for McConnell’s likely Democratic challenger.
“While going into Tuesday’s primary, Sen. McConnell has a comfortable lead but he obviously faces a tougher challenge heading to November,” said WKYT political editor Bill Bryant. “McConnell hopes to return as the majority leader next year, but he has the toughest re-election challenge of any Republican senator in the country.”
When it comes to his job performance, the majority of those polled say Kentucky’s senior senator has done too little to stop federal spending and to stop the Affordable Health Care Act which has been nicknamed “Obamacare.”
Thirty-eight percent of Republicans polled say McConnell has been in office too long and it’s time for him to go, compared to 55 percent of Republicans who say that his expertise and seniority are important for Kentucky to have in Washington, D.C.
Half of Republicans say Bevin is too inexperienced and would Kentucky’s ability to get things from Washington, compared to 38 percent who says that he is the fresh face needed to shake things up at the capitol.
McConnell’s 1984 election to the U.S. Senate marked the first time a Republican won a statewide office in Kentucky since 1968. In 2006, Republicans elected him to be the their leader in the Senate.
A February Bluegrass Poll found McConnell (55 percent) with a comfortable lead over Bevin (29 percent) and with 15 percent of the registered Republican voters undecided. That same poll in February showed Grimes leading McConnell by four percentage points (46 to 42 percent) among registered Kentucky voters in a potential general election match-up.
Assuming McConnell emerges triumphant from Tuesday's primary, the forecast is cloudy for the senate minority leader who stands to become majority leader should he hold his seat and should Republicans capture control of the upper chamber.
The new Bluegrass Poll found McConnell the choice of 42 percent compared to 43 percent for his lesser known but well-financed Democratic challenger. These results are a nominal three points more favorable to McConnell than the most recent Bluegrass Poll, released February 4. That poll was conducted of registered voters; this poll is of likely voters.
The poll found Grimes has built a narrow coalition of Democrats (74 percent support) and moderates (60 percent support). The rest of her support is below 50 percent (women 45 percent, greater Louisville 48 percent). McConnell holds on because he is backed by conservatives (68 percent), Republicans (69 percent), and because where he trails it is narrowly, and by single digits, such as among Independents, where McConnell is down 38 percent to 32 percent.
Six months until votes are counted, even in the face of these poll numbers, McConnell cannot be underestimated.
“The Republicans are prepared to fight for McConnell to keep his seat. They will reach deep into their war chest because of his profile and standing on the national front,” said Bryant. "McConnell is his own best strategist and he generally avoids mistakes in a campaign."
When it comes to approval ratings, the poll found registered voters will the strongest scores to Grimes for the job she is doing as secretary of state. Forty-six approved of her performance versus 32 who disapprove. The majority (56 percent) disapproved of McConnell’s performance in Washington.
When asked about their impressions of the candidates, 35 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Grimes compared to 29 percent for McConnell and 22 percent for Bevin.
In 2010, Grimes made her first step into politics by entering the race to replace former Secretary of State Trey Grayson. She went on to beat Gov. Steve Beshear’s appointee to finish Grayson’s term in the Democratic primary and then soundly beat the Republican businessman Bill Johnson in the general election that focused highly on requiring photo IDs in order to vote.
Before politics, Grimes was a Lexington attorney.
For the poll, SurveyUSA interviewed 2,000 Kentucky adults May 14 to 16. Of the adults, 1,782 were registered to vote. Of the registered, 747 were registered Republicans, and of them, 605 were determined by SurveyUSA to be likely to vote in the May 20 Republican Primary, 1,475 were determined to be likely to vote in the November 4 general election. This survey was conducted using blended sample, mixed mode. Respondents reachable on a home telephone were interviewed on their home telephone in the recorded voice of a professional announcer. Respondents not reachable on a home telephone were shown a questionnaire on their smartphone, tablet or other electronic device.