June 29, 2015 — There has been some skepticism expressed about whether Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) can successfully run for both the Republican presidential nomination and re-election to his current position. A new survey suggests that at least this particular Kentucky polling segment doesn’t seem to mind his simultaneous campaigns.
Public Policy Polling (June 18-21; 1,108 KY registered voters) finds that Sen. Paul should have little difficulty in securing a second six-year term. If the election were today, and his opponent is outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear (D), the senator would enjoy a full 10-point, 49-39 percent, advantage over the retiring chief executive. It is conventional political wisdom that Beshear would be the strongest possible general election opponent to Sen. Paul and, if so, these polling results undoubtedly cast the Kentucky Democratic leadership into a state of despair.
Not only is Gov. Beshear trailing Sen. Paul, but the former has given no indication of even considering making such a challenge. Ineligible to seek a third term this year, it appears that the governor is heading toward political retirement rather than gearing up for a new campaign.
Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen (D) was also tested against the senator, and she fares even worse. With Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, choosing state Rep. Sannie Overly (D) as his 2015 running mate, Luallen is also headed to the political sidelines. Like Gov. Beshear, she gives no indication that a 2016 Senate race is in her future, which is likely a good thing because PPP detects that she trails Paul by 14 points (37-51 percent).
With Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY-3) already announcing that he will run for re-election in 2016, the Democratic statewide bench continues to contract.
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ (D) name will undoubtedly surface – she was the 2014 Democratic Senatorial nominee who fared poorly against incumbent Mitch McConnell (R) – but she first has to win a 2015 re-election in her current post. According to the PPP data, it appears political obstacles stand in her way. Paired with her Republican opponent, former Erlanger City Councilman Steve Knipper, Grimes is actually trailing. If the election were today, this polling sample projects Knipper with a 47-42 percent advantage.
The governor’s campaign is also heading in a different direction than originally predicted. After the Republicans experienced a nasty gubernatorial primary, producing businessman Matt Bevin as an 83-vote winner over state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer (from more than 214,000 ballots cast), it was thought that Attorney General Conway would have the inside track for the general election. The PPP data produces results that disprove this notion.
The mid-June polling sample favors Bevin over Conway by three percentage points, 38-35 percent. Independent Drew Curtis draws six percent. Obviously with an undecided factor of 21 percent, the race is highly fluid but the fact that Bevin has any lead is significant.
While Kentucky is a strong state for Republicans at the federal level – four consecutive wins for the GOP presidential nominee, electing two US senators and five of six US House members – the Commonwealth tends to favor Democrats in the gubernatorial campaigns. Since World War II, only two Republicans have been elected governor, and the state only allowed an incumbent to succeed himself since the 1995 election. Therefore, Bevin’s task is a difficult one, but the state’s move to the political right, most notably since the turn of the century, makes electing him more feasible.
Bevin attracted attention as a Republican primary challenger to Sen. McConnell during the 2014 election cycle. He has rebounded nicely in this race, taking advantage of the split between Comer and former Louisville Metro Councilor Hal Heiner. With the two of them fighting, Bevin could maintain he was an outsider running a positive campaign. The strategy propelled him upward and allowed him to score the barest of wins. Expect Kentucky to be an exciting political state both this year and next.