There is a reason Democrats are targeting US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in red state Kentucky: he is wildly unpopular, uncharismatic, and ineffective. McConnell’s lead has continued to shrink, from a 7 point advantage, down to 4, 1, and now a tie. It has little to do with a surge by Grimes, who has remained unmoved since entering the race. All of McConnell’s erosion is his own.
The latest Rasmussen Report poll (that shows a 42-42 tie between McConnell and Grimes) also shows conservative alternative Matt Bevin up 6 on the Democrat. This is a marked improvement from a December poll by PPP that had both Republicans up on Grimes by 1. Though they did not release any primary race figures, Matt Bevin has increased his standing in the primary with every new poll, and the momentum is very Rubio-esque in nature.
Here are two things Kentucky conservatives should now consider:
1) If Matt Bevin is electable – and two separate polls now suggest he might be even more electable – should conservatives go with the more conservative of the two? Is it now a greater risk to have McConnell in the race? The establishment candidates blew every race in 2012, so giving them the benefit of the doubt is out of the window.
2) If the GOP retakes control of the Senate, do we really want Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader? Or would we conservatives rather another vote in a new direction? The Senate and Congress are already at bottom-of-the-barrel levels in terms of public opinion, and how does that change by staying with the status quo?
2014 US Senate Race in Kentucky
The 2014 election cycle should be a dandy one for Republicans. The Democrats have at least a dozen seats that could be competitive, with a handful already seen as likely GOP pick-ups. This means the Democrats will have to raise and spend a lot of money to defend their current majority, with less opportunity to focus on Republican-held seats. While the GOP will have 14 seats up for re-election, we initially listed all of them as likely holds for the party, meaning they could spend nearly all of their resources challenging Democratic incumbents. But Democrats aren’t giving up easy and they are targeting two GOP seats: Georgia (Open seat) and Kentucky (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell).
The Republican Incumbent
Mitch McConnell has been representing Kentucky in the US Senate since first being elected in 1984. Though he has won statewide 5 times, three of those have been by single digits. In 2008, John McCain won the state by 16 points over Barack Obama while McConnell won by just 6 points. Conservative Democrats make up a large hunk of the Kentucky electorate, so the right Democrat certainly has a chance to win statewide. McConnell has never been an overwhelmingly popular figure in the state. Perhaps his ho-hum personality has led to a disconnect between him and his constituents. Since 2010, McConnell has often worked with the more popular Rand Paul, perhaps to help build some momentum ahead of 2014. But where the Tea Party has thrived is in the injection of new blood, fresh fighting, and different ideas. What happens if McConnell cannot embody that and his Democratic opponent does?
GOP Primary Challenger
Businessman Matt Bevin is the top primary challenger to Mitch McConnell. While it’s unclear how much of a challenge Matt Bevin can give McConnell, a December poll by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling gives the incumbent plenty to worry about. Though 61% of Republicans are not familiar with Bevin, he trails McConnell by just 53-26%. And that number is rising. Though McConnell has been endorsed by fellow Kentuckian Rand Paul, Bevin could very well make the race tough on McConnell’s unpopularity alone. The same poll showed Bevin would lead the Democratic challenger by the same margin as McConnell.
The Democratic Challengers
Alison Lundergan Grimes is the Secretary of State in Kentucky and the Democrats top choice to challenge McConnell in November. Kentucky Democrats tend to do well in state politics, but are less successful in Senate, Congressional, and Presidential elections where national politics are in play. She is pro-abortion and supports Obamacare. Not surprisingly, the “issues” page on her website neglects to mention either, despite Obamacare being one of the hottest issues heading into the 2014 election. She also doesn’t take a position on the 2nd Amendment, but has tweeted a picture of herself shooting a gun in a “challenge” to McConnell. I guess if you are the right kind of candidate – a Democrat – campaigning with gun imagery while not following safety protocol is a-okay. Either way, Michelle Obama, the Clintons, and Hollywood leftists like Leonardo DiCaprio and Barbara Streisand have all come out in full force for the “moderate” Democrat.
The race starts out as leaning Republican. Grimes may avoid talking about Obamacare now, but what happens when it becomes the focal campaign issue? Stepping around the issue has proven difficult for incumbents like Mary Landrieu in Louisiana who now try to appear moderate on the issue. And Grimes will also be running as a vote to keep Obama’s agenda running in the US Senate. Grimes is raising bucks in Hollywood and in New York fundraisers, but McConnell starts 2014 with a hefty war chest of around $10 million.
There is not enough reliable polling – all through January 2014 has been by partisan organizations – but McConnell’s weak showing in 2008 leaves the door open. On the other hand, that Bush-fatigued election was about as bad as it could get for Republicans across the nation and McConnell still won. The national mood has reversed since then and Democrats will be having all of the trouble. Right now, it’s too difficult to know if Grimes’ momentum is more wishful-thinking by the liberal elites, or something more sustainable.