The Senate Minority Leader continues to poll well against both his conservative Republican primary challenger and his presumed Democratic opponent according the latest Human Events/Gravis poll of 1,359 Kentucky voters as they hit the final stretch towards the May 20 primary.
Among GOP Kentucky voters, Sen. A. Mitchell McConnell outpolls businessman Matthew Bevin 51 percent to 34 percent, said Doug Kaplan, the president of Gravis Marketing, the Florida-based polling and call center company that conducted the poll. The telephone survey between April 15 and 17 and carries a margin of error of 3 percent.
Kaplan said the race between McConnell and Bevin has stabilized in the same range as the Jan. 2 Human Events/Gravis poll of 683 Republican voters that had McConnell leading Bevin 53 percent to 31 percent.
“Bevin still have a real shot at beating McConnell, if he can convert the 15 percent undecided, but he is running out of time,” Kaplan said.
In the poll of general election voters, Kaplan said McConnell beats the presumed Democratic opponent Allison Lundergan Grimes and Independent candidate Ed Marksberry: McConnell 43 percent, Grimes 36 percent and Marksberry 9 percent and 12 percent undecided.
“But, facing Bevin, Grimes out on top,” he said. The results are: Grimes 37 percent, Bevin 32 percent and Marksberry 7 percent and 25 percent undecided.
Sarah Durand, a spokeswoman for the Bevin campaign, said the businessman’s campaign continues to be confident they will the primary, despite McConnell’s advantages.
“After spending millions and millions of dollars, Mitch McConnell’s lead continues to shrink and we are well positioned for a historic victory on May 20,” she said.
Allison Moore, the spokeswoman for the McConnell campaign, said the GOP’s Senate leader is relying on his ground game and record.
“Senator McConnell has been running an extremely effective and sophisticated grassroots campaign that has galvanized conservative voters behind him,” she said.
Although Bevin is supported by national conservative and Tea Party groups, Kentucky voters are unpersuaded, Moore said.
“Matt Bevin and outside groups have spent a great deal of money but ultimately they’re running against a very strong conservative and trying to convince Kentuckians that Mitch McConnell is something else is a fool’s errand,” she said. “We feel very comfortable about where we’re at in the general election and confident that Mitch McConnell will return Kentucky’s voice to the Senate as Majority Leader next year.”
Ryan Alessi, the managing editor of the Time Warner show “Pure Politics,” a daily program about Kentucky politics, said a year ago, most people expected McConnell to beat Bevin, but what is surprising is how much money Bevin has raised and how well he has done, so far. “Pure Politics” is broadcast in the state’s five media markets.
Bevin, however, has not been able to convince Kentucky Republicans to give the nomination to him over McConnell, he said.
In the general election, McConnell will have a tougher fight against Grimes, he said.
“In all of the public polls, it has been very close. The New York Times poll had McConnell up by only a point, but that was with under-sampling of Republican-performing voters,” said the former political reporter for the Louisville Herald-Leader.
The Times’ methodology regularly under-samples Republicans, which is why that paper underestimated the vote for former Massachusetts governor W. Mitt Romney against President Barack Obama in 2012, he said.
“McConnell by all virtues starts with an advantage in the general election,” he said. “I have not seen a single poll yet that shows Bevin ahead of Grimes.”
Bevin is doing better than other challengers to McConnell, he said. “If he gets 34 percent, he would have done very, very well.”
Alessi said that national conservative and Tea Party groups supporting Bevin do not appreciate the buffer between Capitol Hill politics and life in Kentucky.
“Issues that seem to grab the press or these national groups are not the things that motivate Kentucky voters,” he said.
The best example is the Olmstead Lock and Dam, a $2 billion federal project that McConnell included in the deal that ended the partial shutdown of the federal government, he said. For conservatives, the dam funding was a huge scandal, but in Kentucky, nobody seemed to even notice. “There is a disconnect.”
Unlike other southern states, the Democrats never controlled Kentucky as completely as they did other states, he said. But, now the Republicans do not have the some control in the state as they do in other southern states.
In Kentucky, there has only been one Republican governor in 40 years, he said.
If in 2014, the Republicans win both houses of the legislature, it will be a first, he said.
Lasley said in the GOP Senate primary, Bevin has run a terrible campaign, which is surprising given the money he has raised and the national interest in the campaign.
“On paper at least, Bevin is a pretty smart guy,” the professor said.
One example of one of Bevin’s unforced errors was his decision to go to Corbin, Ky., and to speak to a group calling for the legalization of cock-fighting, he said.
“Either way you paint the picture, it is not a particularly positive picture,” he said. “If he knew what was going on at the rally, it’s an odd decision to be there. If he didn’t know what the rally was for, then his campaign is incompetent.”
It did not help Bevin that he defended his appearance there and then claimed that the Founding Fathers had held cock fights, he said.
Lasley said McConnell has made his own mistakes, such as using footage of the Duke University basketball team, instead of University of Kentucky, in a campaign ad.
The mistake was not fatal, but it feeds into the narrative that McConnell has become more distance from the people of Kentucky, he said.
Regardless of the results, this is McConnell’s last campaign, he said.