Kentucky poll: Mitch McConnell now trails Democratic challenger by four points in Senate bid

Each of the five polls taken since December have had the race tight, but this is the first one showing Alison Lundergan Grimes in the lead. Noise or omen?

I know what you’re thinking, but don’t celebrate just yet.

“This is not going to be a coast for Mitch McConnell,” said pollster Jay Leve of Survey USA. “It’s going to be a dogfight. Every vote is going to matter. This election is going to have national consequences. We’re going to see a lot of money from outside interests flow into Kentucky.”…

Sixty percent of likely voters in the Bluegrass Poll disapprove of McConnell’s job performance, matching President Barack Obama’s sixty percent disapproval rating in Kentucky…

Among likely voters, McConnell and Grimes have virtually identical favorability ratings in the poll, 27 percent for McConnell and 26 percent for Grimes.

But McConnell’s 50 percent unfavorability rating is nearly twice Grimes’ 27 percent unfavorability rating.

A 27/50 favorability rating is not the stuff of which reelection is made. That means Matt Bevin’s the obvious choice on electability grounds in the GOP primary, right? He’s doing about as well as McConnell is against Grimes right now, trailing by just five points. One recent poll from Rasmussen even had him outperforming McConnell head to head with the Democrat.

Maybe not. Survey USA has McConnell leading Bevin in the primary by 26 points, 55/29. Why? Because, while McConnell may be toxic to Democrats and independents, he’s still above water within his own party. Among Republicans, his job approval is net positive at 51/41 while his favorable rating is 46/30. Even more interesting, when you ask Kentucky GOPers if McConnell compromises too much, too little, or just the right amount with Democrats, they split 35/20/32, i.e., there’s a clear majority who either approve of his dealmaking or wish he would do more, a mild surprise among a base that nominated Rand Paul four years ago. The knock on him from grassroots righties is that he’s the RINO di tutti RINOs but, if you believe Survey USA, Kentucky Republicans aren’t seeing it.

Bevin’s numbers on the “compromise” question, incidentally, are 19/16/22, but it’s hard to draw firm lessons about him from that given that he’s still unknown to so many voters (when asked whether they view Bevin favorably or unfavorably, fully 64 percent of GOPers either said “neutral” or “no opinion”). Right now, as is always true of a tea-party challenger in the early stages, he’s more “Republican who isn’t the incumbent I dislike” than he is a candidate with discrete views of his own. What happens, though, once voters realize he’s running to McConnell’s right? In theory, the fact that even Republican voters prefer compromise would hurt him; Bevin himself is sufficiently worried about that that he took care to denounce the government shutdown last October (sort of) to put voters at ease. On the other hand, he’s posted photos of himself attending Bircher events, which is … not so compromise-y. He’s trying to find the sweet spot between being conservative enough to get tea partiers psyched to turn out in the primary and swamp the moderates backing McConnell and not so conservative that it’s easy for Grimes to demagogue him if he makes it to the general. Not easy, but Rubio was facing the same problem against Crist four years ago and you know how that turned out.

By the way, keep an eye on the proxy war that’s brewing here between the Clintons and Rand Paul, who’s taken to calling Bill a “sexual predator” lately. Grimes is bringing Bill Clinton to Kentucky to try to seize the electoral middle ground, in the expectation that McConnell and Bevin will spend the next few months tacking right for the primary. McConnell will, at some point, bring in his pal Rand to go to bat for him, whether in the primary or the general. Will Monica Lewinsky be name-checked before November? Fingers crossed.