Is Mitch McConnell already losing his reelection campaign? That's what a new poll from the Louisville Courier-Journal released Tuesday suggests. According to the survey of 609 registered voters in Kentucky, just 17 percent say they would vote to reelect the Republican and Senate minority leader, with 34 percent saying they will vote against him. Forty-four percent, meanwhile, say they will "wait and see" who will challenge McConnell in 2014 before making a decision. The firm Survey USA conducted the poll for the newspaper.
Other news outlets have highlighted the poll as a sign the senior senator from Kentucky is in for a tough reelection battle. But a campaign spokesman for McConnell, who will be seeking his sixth term in the Senate next year, says the Courier-Journal's conclusions from the poll are bogus.
“The fact that they’d put a single skewed poll question on the front-page of a newspaper shows that they’re far more interested in inflicting damage to Sen. McConnell than preserving any appearance of journalistic standards," said Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager. "Anybody with a basic knowledge of polls knows that the question they were asking was only meant to drive a headline. This is advocacy journalism at its worst.”
A better indicator of McConnell's strength, allies say, is his approval rating. A Survey USA poll from last October showed half of likely voters in Kentucky approve of the Republican, including 18 percent who "strongly" approve. Forty-three percent said they disapproved, including 28 percent who "strongly" disapprove.
Furthermore, Republicans point to a Survey USA poll from April 2011 that asked a question similar to the Courier-Journal poll's about President Barack Obama. At the time, only 26 percent of respondents said they would vote for him, while 34 percent said they would vote against him. A full 35 percent, however, said they would want to "see the ballot" before making a decision. Eighteen months later, Americans reelected Obama, giving him 51.1 percent of the vote.
Nevertheless, McConnell could face significant opposition--from both the left and the right. Kentuckians have consistently voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 2000 and have elected only Republicans to the Senate since 1998. But Democrats remain strong in the state, outnumbering Republicans with registered voters and having a hold on the state's governorship and its house of representatives. McConnell won reelection in 2008 with 53 percent of the vote, his lowest share of the vote since 1990. Still, if Democrats could find a strong candidate and the party has a good year nationwide, McConnell could have a serious race on his hands.
That is, if he wins the GOP primary. As Politico's Manu Raju reported earlier this week, Democrats are helping recruit a right-wing challenge to McConnell in his own primary. "We are doing a lot of reaching out to some of the tea party folks across the state,” Keith Rouda the Democratic super PAC, Progress Kentucky, told Raju. “What we’re finding — at least in this stage of the race — we’re finding that our interests align. It’s unusual."