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McConnell Widens Lead Over Grimes In Final Bluegrass Poll

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.

Photo: UFCW International Union via Flickr

Midterm Roundup: So Much For South Dakota?

Here are some interesting stories on the midterm campaigns that you may have missed on Monday, October 27:

• Democratic hopes of pulling an upset in South Dakota’s Senate race appear to be on life support. Three recent polls — from CBS News/New York Times/YouGov, NBC News/Marist, and Argus Leader/KELO — find Republican Mike Rounds regaining his footing over Democrat Rick Weiland and Indepdendent Larry Pressler. Rounds now leads by 12 percent in the Real Clear Politics poll average. Meanwhile, on Monday Weiland accused the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee of sabotaging his campaign, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his chances of a comeback.

• Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) could be in big trouble if she can’t win over 50 percent on Election Day. A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Landrieu leading Republicans Rep. Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness in an open contest, 36 to 35 to 11 percent. But if Landrieu and Cassidy advance to a December 6 runoff, as expected, then Cassidy would claim a 48 to 41 percent advantage. He leads by 5.8 percent in the poll average.

• Although the political media viciously attacked Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes for refusing to tell The Courier-Journal’s editorial board whether she voted for President Obama in 2012, it did not stop the paper from endorsing her challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Grimes trails McConnell by 4.4 percent in the poll average, but Grimes is sending in two of the party’s most effective surrogates — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — to campaign for her in the final week of the campaign.

• Desperate to close the gap in Iowa’s Senate race, the DSCC has begun running a tough new ad accusing Republican Joni Ernst of planning to privatize Social Security. Ernst leads by 2.2 percent in the poll average.

• And in one of the stranger stories from a notably odd election cycle, on Monday the New Hampshire Republican Party published an op-ed by former state House Speaker Marshall Cobleigh (R), hammering Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s (D) energy policies. The twist? Cobleigh has been dead for five years, and many of the issues that he cites — such as “skyrocketing gas prices” — are not quite as pressing as they were when the piece was written in 2008. Shaheen leads Republican Scott Brown by 5 points in the latest poll of the race, and she has a 2.2 percent advantage in the poll average.

Photo: James Bilbrey via Flickr

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The Blue-Collar Imperative

WASHINGTON — In Georgia, Democrat Michelle Nunn is giving Republicans a real scare in a Senate race the GOP thought it had put away. Some of her new momentum comes from a sustained attack on David Perdue, her businessman foe, for his work shipping American jobs overseas.

One ad includes a quotation from Perdue about his outsourcing past: “Defend it? I’m proud of it.” The tagline: “David Perdue, he’s not for you.”

Meanwhile in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, trailing in the polls against Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, has refused to say whether she voted for President Obama. But when Hillary Clinton came to the state to campaign for her last week, Grimes was proud to call herself “a Clinton Democrat.”

This is no accident: In Kentucky’s 2008 presidential primary, Clinton defeated Obama 65 percent to 30 percent. Coal country in Eastern Kentucky is a battleground in the Senate contest, and Clinton swept the region six years ago. In Magoffin County, Clinton received 93 percent of the vote.

Finally, consider a speech Clinton’s husband made in New Hampshire last Thursday, campaigning on behalf of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and the rest of the Democratic ticket. “I feel like an old racehorse in a stable,” former President Bill Clinton told a crowd of about 1,200 at a fundraiser to appreciative laughter, “and people just take me out and put me on the track and slap me on the rear to see if I can run around one more time.”

But his message about the Republicans was dead serious. “They want you to cast resentment votes,” he declared. “Resentment against the president. Resentment against the Affordable Care Act. Resentment against the last bad thing that happened.”

The elections in Georgia and Kentucky are different in important ways, but one lesson from both is that Democrats can’t win without a sufficient share of the white working-class vote. Nunn, on offense, and Grimes, on defense, are both trying to secure ballots from the sorts of voters who were once central to the Democratic coalition.

And Bill Clinton’s comments reflected what his party is up against: Republicans have been quite effective at turning the anger that working-class whites feel about being left behind in the new economy against liberals, Democrats and especially the president. The Democrats’ worries were nicely captured in a headline on Matthew Cooper’s recent Newsweek article: “Why Working-Class White Men Make Democrats Nervous.”

There is no reason to be dainty or evasive in saying that racism and racial resentment are part of the equation, and it’s not just that Obama is our first African-American president. Racial politics has been helping Republicans since the 1960s when much of the white South realigned toward the GOP in reaction to the Democrats’ embrace of civil rights.

This year, it’s not hard to see coded messages in Republican advertisements blanketing the airwaves tying the Islamic State and even Ebola fears to immigration and border security, or ads in gubernatorial campaigns in Maine and Massachusetts about welfare.

Yet race is not the only thing going on. Andrew Levison, the author of The White Working Class Today, says it’s important to distinguish between racial feelings today and those of a half-century ago. “It’s not 1950s racism,” he told me. “It’s more a sense of aggrievement — that Democrats care about other groups but not about the white working class.”

Complicating matters, but also giving Democrats hope, is the fact that younger members of the white working are more culturally liberal than their elders. They are also more open to a stronger government role in the economy, as Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin of the Center for American Progress have shown.

Perdue’s problems on outsourcing, like Mitt Romney’s 2012 troubles related to his own business background, reveal the major soft spot in the GOP’s white working-class armor: that many blue-collar Americans combine a mistrust of Democrats with a deep skepticism about the corporate world. Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, says this points the way toward arguments that progressives need to make in the future.

“We have to expose the unholy alliance between money and politics,” she says. “Concern about inequality is unifying, it’s cross-partisan, and it’s not ideological.”

This will play some this year but may loom larger in 2016. For now, vulnerable Democrats seem eager to have the old racehorse on the track, and Arkansas and Louisiana were the next stops on Bill Clinton’s schedule. He’s trying to bring home voters who once saw his party as the working man’s best friend.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

Photo: Be The Change, Inc via Flickr

Midterm Roundup: Grimes Isn’t Done Yet In Kentucky

Here are some interesting stories on the midterm campaigns that you may have missed on Wednesday, October 1:

• Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes released an internal poll finding her 2 points ahead of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Although such polls should always be taken with a grain of salt — especially when they contradict public surveys (McConnell leads by 5.3 percent in the Real Clear Politics poll average) — it should be noted that pollster Mark Mellman has a history of outperforming the competition.

• In other Kentucky news, on Wednesday former president Bill Clinton made his first appearance in a Grimes campaign ad.

• Senator Pat Roberts’ (R-KS) political troubles keep mounting. A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Independent candidate Greg Orman ahead of Roberts, 46 to 42 percent. Making matters worse for the three-term incumbent, The Hill reports that Kansas Tea Party groups are now threatening to sit the election out. Orman leads by 5.3 percent in the poll average.

• Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race is still a tossup. On Wednesday, a Marquette University Law School poll found incumbent Republican Scott Walker leading Democratic challenger Mary Burke among likely voters, 50 to 45 percent. He leads by just 1 point among registered voters. The poll comes one day after a Gravis Marketing survey showed Burke up 50 to 45 percent among registered voters. Walker leads by 1.8 percent in the poll average.

• And Republicans have uncovered another inconvenient case of voter fraud: Leslie Rutledge, the GOP candidate for attorney general in Arkansas, had her voter registration canceled after the Pulaski county clerk discovered that she is also registered to vote in Washington DC, and possibly Virginia.

Photo: Patrick Delahanty via Wikimedia Commons