WASHINGTON – Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has bolted to a late lead in his quest for a sixth term representing Kentucky, as reluctant members of the state’s GOP faithful are coming home to roost.
The Bluegrass Poll, conducted by Survey USA and commissioned by five media outfits, including the Courier-Journal of Louisville and the Lexington Herald Leader, reported Thursday that McConnell has expanded his edge over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, the secretary of state, to five points with only five days left until the election.
According to the survey, McConnell carries the support of 48 percent of those questioned while Grimes clocks in with 43 percent. David Patterson, a Libertarian, gets 3 percent.
That contrasts with the previous Bluegrass Poll, released Oct. 20, which showed the race in a virtual dead heat. McConnell at that juncture held a 44-43 lead with Patterson attracting 5 percent.
The difference, according to internal numbers, is the number of Republicans who have decided to back McConnell. The veteran lawmaker was unable to attract more than 80 percent of the Republican vote in all previous Bluegrass Polls. This go-round he cracked 86 percent. Meanwhile, Patterson, who stood to take some supporters who might otherwise back McConnell, lost ground.
McConnell has consistently experienced problems bringing Republican voters into the fold. Despite his position atop the Republican hierarchy in the Senate, he has attracted catcalls from the party’s right wing and has run afoul of the Tea Party movement, which carries significant influence within the GOP.
He faced a primary challenge from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, who has ties to the Tea Party, prevailing 61-35. Bevin has declined to endorse his one-time foe but he indicated in a presentation during a rally attended by McConnell in Louisville on Wednesday that he likely will vote for the Republican.
“I have always voted for him,” Bevin said.
Regardless, McConnell’s newfound support has a grudging feel. The same poll shows that only 37 percent of those questioned have a favorable view of him while 44 percent register an unfavorable opinion.
McConnell will continue to try to shore up his base heading into Nov. 4. He is scheduled to fly into several Kentucky cities on Monday with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a darling of the party right-wing who is considering a run for president in 2016. On Thursday he campaigned in Northern Kentucky, a conservative bastion that has supported him in the past.
Grimes, meanwhile, is having her own troubles with her chosen party. While registered Democrats continue to outnumber registered Republicans statewide, the poll indicates only 71 percent of Democrats intend to vote for her, while 23 percent said they will cast their ballots for McConnell.
She continues to count on the support of high-profile Democrats to help her make up ground. Former President Bill Clinton, making his fourth visit to the Bluegrass State on her behalf, told a crowd in Louisville on Thursday that Grimes will fight for working families in the Senate and urged supporters to get people to the polls.
“You’ve got to make sure Alison’s got the ball at the end of the game by getting every single solitary soul to go and vote,” Clinton said.
Grimes will continue to boost her Democratic bona fides when Clinton’s wife and potential 2016 presidential hopeful, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, makes a campaign appearance on her behalf on Saturday.