The Kentucky senator, who leads the Republicans in the Senate, is ahead of his opponent in the May 20 GOP primary as they reach the final stretch of their campaign, according to a Jan. 2 Human Events/Gravis poll of 683 registered Republicans.
Sen. A. Mitchell “Mitch” McConnell was the choice of 53 percent of respondents compared to 31 percent for Louisville businessman Matthew G. Bevin, said Doug Kaplan, the president of Gravis Marketing, a Florida-based polling company that conducted the poll. The poll carried a margin of error of 4 percent.
The poll also found that 36 percent of respondents said McConnell is less conservative today than he was when he was first elected, Kaplan said.
Bevin is the president of Bevin Brothers Manufacturing, a family-owned bell manufacturer founded in 1832 that at the time of the May 27, 2012 fire at its East Hampton, Conn., factory, was the last American maker of bells. The company, which makes the bells for the Salvation Army, still sells bells, but has not yet rebuilt its factory.
Rachel Semmel, the press secretary for the Bevin campaign, said the candidate is confident.
“We’re excited by the tremendous momentum we have in this race,” she said. “In just a few months, Matt’s cut McConnell’s lead in half, and as voters learn more about his big government voting record, we look forward to victory in May.”
The press secretary from the McConnell campaign, Allison Moore, said the poll validates what she has seen from other reports.
“All available polling shows Senator McConnell with large, insurmountable leads,” she said.
“We are working hard to bring Republicans together so we can take the Senate majority and put a stop to the liberal, big government agenda in Washington,” she said.
John David Dyche, author of a 2009 biography of the McConnell, “Republican Leader: A Political Biography of Senator Mitch McConnell,” said the poll is tracking with his own take on the primary race.
“McConnell has a firm base of about 60 percent with Republican Party regulars, and about a third of the Republican Party primary electorate is probably Tea Party true believers,” he said.
“I do not think there is any issue upon which Bevin can make up 22 points against McConnell,” he said. “What happens with the upcoming debt ceiling debate may be a small opening, but the rest of the year is going to be about Obamacare mainly.”
Dyche, who is a political commentator on Louisville’s WDRB-TV, said, “If McConnell and Bevin split the undecided and it ends up 61 percent to 39 percent, the Kentucky media will spin that as mortally wounding McConnell for the general election.”
In the general election, he said McConnell can only win if he unites the Republican Party.
“I was struck by one thing in the poll in particular,” Dyche said.
“Less than half of the respondents think McConnell is as conservative today as when he was first elected,” he said. “This is plainly wrong. He is more conservative today than he has ever been. He came to the Senate from the moderate center of the GOP, having supported Ford over Reagan in 1976, for example, but now is voting regularly with Rand Paul on budget and fiscal matters. He has clearly moved rightward with the party.”
“Senator McConnell is not terribly popular in either party’s view but that does not mean he is electorally vulnerable in the primary or general election,” said the professor, whose study: “All Politics is Still Local: McConnell vs. Lunsford in Kentucky’s Senate Race” about McConnell’s 2008 race against Democrat Bruce Lunsford is included in the political science textbook Cases in Congressional Campaigns: Incumbents Playing Defense.
“He built his career on earmarks and federal support for Kentucky infrastructure, universities, and agriculture,” she said.
Before 2009, McConnell was more liberal than he is today, she said. “He voted in favor of President Clinton’s liberal Supreme Court nominees, as did the majority of Senate Republicans.”
The senator traded his complex multi-hatted view of his role for a partisan warrior agenda and persona,” she said. “This transformation is also visible among his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”
Farrier said, “If McConnell can keep the focus on cultural issues and opposition to President Obama, he will keep Republicans in the fold–if poverty programs and health insurance enrollments in Kentucky remain on the agenda, his task is more complex.”
The professor said, “The curiosity is that the poorest counties in Kentucky were the reddest in the last two elections,” she said. “Federal transfer payments make up half or more of these counties’ incomes. Why would they support the attacks on federal entitlement programs by establishment Republicans, let alone the slashing agenda of Tea Party candidates?”
Political consultant Keith Appell said the poll is still early with time for Bevin to make his move.
“It’s not quite competitive yet. Bevin has some work to do. But that’s an awful lot of people this early who are ready to go with Bevin instead of McConnell,” said Appell, who is a senior vice-president at Washington-based CRC Public Relations, a firm that works with several conservative public policy, grassroots and issue advocacy clients.
“The primary will be a referendum on McConnell and whether or not his actions as a Republican leader in Washington match up with what he has promised his constituents back home,” he said.
“Bevin is not in striking distance yet, but that’s an alarming percentage of opposition to McConnell with four months to go,” he said. “This will likely encourage more conservative and Tea Party groups to ratchet things up in Kentucky and that’ll create more opportunities for Bevin to draw closer.”