By Sam Youngman, Lexington Herald-Leader (MCT)
LEXINGTON, Ky. — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has opened up a 5-point lead over Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes and appears well-positioned to win a sixth term, according to the final Bluegrass Poll before Tuesday’s election.
McConnell leads Grimes 48 percent to 43 percent in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race, with Libertarian candidate David Patterson pulling 3 percent.
In a Bluegrass Poll released early last week, McConnell was clinging to a 1-point lead, with 44 percent backing him and 43 percent choosing Grimes.
The latest poll of 597 likely voters in Kentucky was conducted by SurveyUSA between Oct. 25 and Oct. 29 on behalf of the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
With just five days to go until Election Day, McConnell has surged as Republican voters show increasing unity and President Barack Obama’s popularity hits a new low in the state.
“The Bluegrass Poll has been the one independent source indicating that Grimes might be on target to win this Senate race, so having the numbers turn against her is devastating news,” said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.
After four Bluegrass Polls showed McConnell falling below 80 percent among likely Republican voters, the senator appears to be solidifying his base. Eighty-six percent now say they will vote for McConnell.
Poll respondent Terie Blankenbaker of Louisville said she had hoped Louisville businessman Matt Bevin would win the Republican primary in May, but she is voting for McConnell now because he has “typically” stood up to the president and his “liberal agenda.”
“I think it’s despicable what he’s done to our country,” Blankenbaker said of Obama.
Grimes, on the other hand, continues to face problems within her own party. Only 71 percent of Democrats say they will support her and 23 percent say they will back McConnell.
Meanwhile, 27 percent of registered voters say they have a favorable view of Obama, whose policies on coal have cast a large shadow over Grimes throughout the race. Fifty-five percent have an unfavorable view of Obama, and those margins grow dramatically in the western and eastern parts of the state.
“President Obama is clearly the albatross hanging around Grimes’ neck,” Voss said. “He is incredibly unpopular in Kentucky, and if anything, in the last several weeks attitudes toward him have only worsened.”
The poll shows McConnell leading among men and women. He leads 48 percent to 43 percent among men and 47 percent to 43 percent among women.
The state’s senior senator has a 10-point advantage among voters 50 and older. Grimes, who is Kentucky’s secretary of state, holds a 4-point lead among voters 49 and younger.
Regionally, McConnell built on his double-digit leads in eastern and western portions of the state (53-36 in the east and 55-38 in the west) while cutting Grimes’ lead in the Louisville region from 14 points early last week to eight points (41-49). The candidates remained tied with 45 percent each in north-central Kentucky, which includes the Lexington area and Northern Kentucky.
McConnell’s popularity continues to suffer, with only 37 percent of respondents saying they have a favorable view of him, compared to 44 percent who have an unfavorable view.
“I don’t like what Mitch has been doing,” said poll respondent Timothy Abrams of Berea. “I think he’s dragging his feet and just making things better for himself and not making things better for the state.”
But Grimes’ popularity has moved into similarly bleak territory, with 37 percent holding a favorable view and 43 percent holding an unfavorable view, her highest negative rating of the year.
If Republicans win control of the U.S. Senate, McConnell would likely become the majority leader, and he has repeatedly argued that his leadership position would be good for Kentucky.
The Bluegrass Poll found that 51 percent of respondents believe it is “important to have someone in the U.S. Senate with seniority,” including 34 percent of self-identified Democrats.
Poll respondent Tiffany Scofield, a Louisville Republican, said it “would be the most stupid thing in the world to throw out the most powerful Republican in the country, and that’s why he needs to stay there to change things.”
“(Grimes) will be at the bottom of the barrel, and that is not going to help Kentuckians,” Scofield said. “It would just be foolhardy to throw him out.”
But James Graham, another poll respondent from Louisville, said the time has come for McConnell to go.
“We need some new blood in there,” Graham said. “Mitch McConnell hasn’t done anything for the seniors or … to help the working man.”
Less than two-thirds of voters say they know where McConnell and Grimes stand on the issues, according to the poll, with McConnell edging out Grimes 64 percent to 60 percent on that measure.
The poll also sought to gauge how voters viewed the efforts of Grimes and McConnell to avoid answering certain questions posed by the media in recent weeks. Grimes has refused to say if she voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012 while McConnell has refused to say if he believes climate change is occurring as a result of human activity.
Only 39 percent of registered voters say Grimes should answer the Obama question while 53 percent say McConnell should answer the climate-change question.
Grimes was criticized heavily by several national media outlets for avoiding the Obama question, with “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd going so far as to say Grimes had “disqualified herself.”
“The national media obsessed over the secretary of state’s refusal to say whether she voted for Obama, but the number of voters who express unhappiness with her decision is not large, and it’s likely most of them were voting against Grimes anyway,” Voss said.
Despite the intensely negative nature of the race, 68 percent of respondents agree with the statement “I’m satisfied with my choices for the U.S. Senate.”
Among Republicans, 71 percent say they are satisfied with their options, but that number ticks up to 74 percent among self-identified conservatives. By comparison, 73 percent of Democrats say they are satisfied with their choices, but that number drops to 61 percent among self-identified liberals.
Among self-identified independents, less than half — 47 percent — say they were satisfied with their choices.
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