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Public Policy Polling finds Sen. Mitch McConnell vulnerable to 'more conservative' primary challenge

by Curtis Morrison

Mitch McConnell is the most unpopular Senator in the country. Only 37% of Kentucky voters approve of him to 55% disapprove. Both in terms of raw disapproval (55%) and net approval (-18) McConnell has the worst numbers of any of his peers, taking that mantle from Nebraska’s Ben Nelson. - “Public Policy Polling: McConnell highly unpopular”

Public Policy Polling, based in Raleigh, N.C., just released a poll that has Kentucky political junkies buzzing.

The poll asked Democratic Party voters about eight separate candidates their party could choose as challengers: Jerry Abramson, Matthew Barzun, Jack Conway, Adam Edelen, Greg Fischer, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Ashley Judd, and John Yarmuth. Of those voters, 29 percent of respondents preferred Judd, the hands down leader over second place Jerry Abramson’s 16 percent.

Public Policy did not ask about former Kentucky Auditor Crit Luallen, who is still a favorite among many even state Democratic activists, though Luallen has said it’s not the race for her.

Also from the poll, McConnell is vulnerable to a primary challenge:

 The primary action in 2014 might not all be on the Democratic side. Among Republican primary voters only 50% say they want McConnell to be their nominee against next time, while 35% would prefer a generic ‘more conservative’ candidate.’

Those same Republican voters were asked about potential McConnell-primary challenger, Congressman Thomas Massey, who McConnell handily beats 66/18.

Republican voters weren’t asked who they would choose from other potential Republicans challengers such as the Tea Party’s Louisville Metro Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, or Phil Moffett, a 2011 gubernational candidate.

Heck, Sarah Palin might want to move here: She’s never yet run for senate.

The poll could have put McConnell up against more traditional moderate Republicans such as:

  • former Congresswoman Anne Northup, who now works for the Obama administration.
  • former Kentucky Auditor Trey Grayson, who is now the Director of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • former Louisville mayoral candidate Hal Heiner, who has been active since the 2010 election lobbying for Charter schools through a nonprofit organization he created, Kentuckians Advocating Reform in Education.

Let’s put the polls results in context with the analysis we read Sunday by the Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth that failed to mention any McConnell vulnerability: Joseph Gerth | Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul could benefit from Jim DeMint’s departure.

From that piece: 

What’s even more important is that DeMint’s departure at the end of the year means that DeMint, the tea party leader in the Senate, won’t be in position to challenge McConnell as Republican leader. Ever. DeMint probably couldn’t beat McConnell in a leaderhship election, but a challenge would weaken Kentucky’s senior senator in future power struggles.

Follow-up argument between C-J’s Joe Gerth and Insider’s Curtis Morrison on Facebook:

Curtis:

Interesting (Gerth’s Sunday piece) but I think Joe is underestimating the impact the Tea Party could have in displacing McConnell in his own primary. I’m hearing from a lot of registered Republicans who say, “Yeah, you’re right about McConnell, he needs to go.” Surely, we’re not naive enough to think the Tea Party is just going to set back and let the Democratic Party choose his replacement? The other day a Democrat even told me she’d changed her party membership so she could vote against McConnell in his primary. McConnell’s pretty vulnerable. Might as well acknowledge it now.

Joe:

Curtis, I’m not underestimating the impact of the tea party but unless and until a strong tea party candidate steps forward, I’m not going to overestimate the impact they might have. That candidate might be out there but they need to declare their intentions.

So, Joe’s not willing to overestimate the vulnerability an incumbent could have to primary challengers. Though Joe has characterized McConnell as pretty much invincible, within 48 hours of polling which has declared him “the most unpopular Senator in the country.”

Interesting.

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