Is it a race after all?
After trailing by as many as seven points in every major poll since June, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes now holds a slim lead over Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, according to a Bluegrass Poll survey released last week.
Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state, leads the five-term incumbent 46 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, according to the poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for Louisville’s Courier-Journal and three other state media outlets. Libertarian candidate David Patterson had 3 percent support in the poll, while 7 percent said they were undecided.
The poll follows an internal survey conducted a week earlier that also showed Grimes with a 2-point edge over the six-term incumbent, according to campaign sources.
McConnell’s campaign, though, wasn’t impressed.
“After fourteen straight public polls all showing Sen. McConnell with a clear lead, this Bluegrass Poll is obviously an outlier,” McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said in a statement. “We’re very comfortable with where this race stands and are confident Sen. McConnell will be re-elected in November.”
Of course, one would expect such a response from the Republican’s camp.
But Geoffrey Skelley, an independent political analyst with the University of Virginia, agrees that the poll doesn’t necessarily represent a meaningful shift in the dynamics of the race.
“It seems likely this is an outlier,” he said. “As always, one poll means little. This one will need confirmation from other surveys before we consider altering out outlook on the race.”
Grassroots Strategy Paying Off?
For now, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the U.Va. forecast model for which Skelley serves as associate editor, has McConnell winning the race by a small but definitive margin.
But Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst said in a statement that the poll “reflects the overwhelming grassroots enthusiasm Alison and our campaign see every day across the commonwealth.”
Democrats also point to the poll’s finding that 58 percent of registered voters believe McConnell should be replaced, a figure consistent with what other surveys have found recently.
Even more alarming for McConnell is the percentage of Republicans and conservatives who believe he’s been in Washington too long — 27 and 33 percent, respectively.
‘Grain Of Salt’
Still, University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss said the poll’s results — and especially its 6-point swing from a month ago, when it had McConnell up by four points — won’t likely have Republicans changing their game plan anytime soon.
“I would take these results with a grain of salt, given that they deviate from everything we’ve seen recently,” Voss told the Courier-Journal.
Indeed, a poll released on Wednesday showed McConnell back on top by 4 points, a result more in line with polls of the last several months.
The McConnell campaign’s strategy has focused on tying Grimes to an unpopular President Obama, suggesting she would be little more than a rubber stamp for the president and his policies.
That tactic, which Republicans nationwide have employed this year as Obama’s favorability ratings stay mired in the mid to upper 30s, has proved effective in other states. The GOP needs to flip six seats in the Senate to take control of the chamber — and make McConnell majority leader in the process — and most analysts believe the party will reach that mark if current trends continue through Election Day.
Still, the Kentucky race is among the closest in the nation in this mid-term election year, and will likely go down to the wire.
Trouble On Tape
Grimes has insisted she isn’t an Obama clone and will stand up to the president when his policies go against Kentuckians’ best interests.
But the Democrat and her campaign haven’t helped themselves in convincing voters of her sincerity. The Grimes’ camp was stung last week when a secretly recorded video was released showing local Democratic officials questioning Grimes’ commitment to coal. The tape was produced by conservative activist James O’Keefe.
On the tape, the videographer asks Democratic officials what Grimes’ intentions are regarding coal.
“If we can get her elected do you think she is going to do the right thing and she’s gonna try to wipe out that coal industry and go for better resources?” says the videographer, who was secretly documenting the encounter.
“I absolutely think she is,” responds Fayette County Democratic Party operative Gina Bess.
“She has to say that,” added Juanita Rodriguez of the Warren County Democratic Party. “But you know what? Politics is a game. You do what you have to do to get [elected]. … It’s a lying game unfortunately.”
McConnell’s campaign pounced once the video was released, calling the comments by Democrats “shocking” and clear evidence that Grimes won’t go to bat for Kentucky coal.
“The level of deception that Alison Grimes and her campaign engages in to appear pro-coal despite obvious opposition is both disturbing and dangerous,” Moore said.
The Grimes camp fired back, calling O’Keefe a “discredited con artist,” and pointing out that no one on the tape works for Grimes or her campaign.
“The individuals in the video aren’t on our staff,” said Grimes’ spokeswoman Charly Norton. “The United Mine Workers of America endorsed Alison because of her unwavering commitment to Kentucky coal miners. The fact that McConnell’s campaign relies on a convicted criminal with a known history of absurd and deceptive projects is telling as McConnell attempts to make this race about anything but the loss of 25,000 coal jobs on his watch.”
O’Keefe, who has gained a reputation for secretly recording Democrats and liberals making embarrassing and contradictory comments, pleaded guilty in 2010 to a charge of entering federal property under false pretenses. The charge stemmed from an incident in which he and two other men secretly tried to record Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office.
Whether the tape costs Grimes voters remains to be seen, of course, but Skelley, the U.Va. analyst, isn’t sure it will make a difference one way or the other. He believes the environment that could lead to a GOP takeover of the Senate will push McConnell across the finish line first.
“Kentucky is a Republican state at the federal level,” he said . “[McConnell] may not be popular, but [he’s] a Republican in an environment favorable to his party in a state that doesn’t like the president.”