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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leads his Republican and Democratic challengers in Kentucky’s 2014 race for U.S. Senate, according to a Wenzel Strategies survey released Thursday.

The Republican-leaning poll finds McConnell crushing his Tea Party-backed challenger, wealthy businessman Matt Bevin, 59 percent to 20 percent. Bevin, who announced his candidacy on Wednesday, is viewed negatively by 21 percent of the voters surveyed, and two-thirds of voters said they do not know or have an opinion on him.

McConnell, who is regarded positively by 53 percent of voters surveyed and negatively by 45 percent, is also leading his likely Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell has an 8 point lead — 48 percent to 40 percent — with 12 percent undecided.

A quarter of voters have said they do not have an opinion on Grimes, who has seen her unpopularity rise by 16 points in the past month, from 25 percent to 41 percent.

McConnell has a stronger following than either challenger; the Kentucky senator, who has served for 28 years, has the “definite” votes of 41 percent of voters who say they view him positively.

The incumbent has also been endorsed by Rand Paul, who is sure to attract more Kentucky voters. According to Politico, Paul, who is the most popular politician in the state, is viewed favorably by 61 percent of voters.

In a hypothetical matchup between Bevin and Grimes, Bevin is leading the secretary of state 35 percent to 30 percent. The plurality of voters is still undecided.

McConnell is not taking any chances with Bevin. Before Bevin announced his candidacy, McConnell’s campaign unveiled a six-figure TV ad attacking him. The ad revealed that Bevin had obtained $200,000 in Connecticut state grants to help his companies rebuild after a 2012 fire, and was assessed with eight local tax liens for failing to pay $116,000 in taxes.

The ad came a day after Bevin had released his own ad, in which he asked: “Mitch McConnell has had a long career in politics, but after 30 years in Washington, is his leadership really the best we can do?”

But, as Thursday’s Wenzel Strategies poll shows, a majority of Kentucky voters do seem satisfied with McConnell’s leadership enough so to not consider Bevin as the GOP candidate.

McConnell may run into problems with Grimes, however. The incumbent does not have a majority lead over Grimes, despite his greater popularity.

Veteran Democratic operative Jimmy Cauley says Grimes might just beat McConnell if “she can get votes out of northern Kentucky and out west.”

He added: “That’s where the race will be won or lost.”

The survey conducted Tuesday and Wednesday included 624 likely voters and has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com

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