Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andy Beshear, Adam Edelen and Rocky Adkins

A memo from the polling firm of Adam Edelen’s campaign for governor shows that while Attorney General Andy Beshear maintains a significant lead over his two main Democratic primary competitors, the race has tightened since a Beshear poll found him running away from the field in early February.

According to the internal polling memo obtained by Insider Louisville, the national firm ALG Research surveyed 500 likely Democratic primary voters over the past week and found Beshear with support from 43% of respondents, trailed by Edelen in second with 23% and House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins in third with 22%.

Despite this apparent wide margin with less than five weeks to go until the May 21 primary, the ALG polling memo stated that Edelen’s campaign “is beginning to surge as we enter the home stretch,” pointing to a significant improvement of the candidate’s numbers over the past two months and an advantage among respondents who have seen his television ads.

A Feb. 10 memo from the Beshear campaign’s internal pollster Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group found Beshear with 55% of the vote, followed by Adkins with 17% and Edelen far back in third place with 7%. Beshear’s numbers were boosted by his 92% name recognition among respondents, while Adkins and Edelen were only known by 47% and 37% of the 603 likely Democratic primary voters surveyed.

However, Edelen appears to have had a significant advantage over the airwaves in the past month, going up first on television with campaign ads throughout the state, in addition to advertising by Kentuckians for a Better Future, an unaffiliated Super PAC advocating for his election.

According to the ALG memo, a plurality of respondents who have seen any of Edelen’s ads favor the former state auditor over the attorney general, as he leads with 36% over Beshear’s 31%.

Additionally, after “positive bio paragraphs are read on each candidate,” the ALG memo states that Beshear’s margin over Edelen is cut to 4 percentage points, while Edelen takes a 40% to 30% lead over Beshear when respondents are also read multiple negative messages on each of the three candidates.

The internal memo for the Edelen campaign concludes by claiming that “polling shows that Kentucky Democrats flock to Adam Edelen as they hear more about his campaign, values, and accomplishments.”

To date there has been no independent polling released on the Democratic primary for governor beyond the internal polls of the Beshear and Edelen campaign.

While polling in Kentucky has been notoriously flawed over the past five years, several national pollsters have shown incumbent governor and likely Republican nominee Matt Bevin with poor approval ratings in the state, while a Mason Dixon poll from December found both Beshear and Adkins leading Bevin in a hypothetical general election matchup.

Despite Bevin’s apparently weak numbers, President Donald Trump maintains strong approval numbers in Kentucky and is expected to campaign for the governor at some point this fall, just as he did for Congressman Andy Barr in his close victory over Democrat Amy McGrath last year in the Sixth District.

The next deadline for campaigns — and Super PACs — to report their fundraising and expenditures since the beginning of this year is next week, while the a candidate forum with the three main Democratic candidates for governor will take place on Thursday at noon, hosted by the Rotary Club of Louisville at the Frazier History Museum. Beshear, Edelen and Adkins are also expected to participate in debates on WDRB and KET over the next month, as well as one aired on WLEX in Lexington next week that will be moderated by Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones and be the first forum in which all three candidates are participating together on the same stage.

Following the publication of this story, Fred Yang — the internal pollster of the Beshear campaign — spoke with Insider Louisville and revealed the results of their latest poll, which showed Beshear with a larger lead than Edelen’s poll.

The survey of 601 likely Democratic primary voters took place Monday through Wednesday of this week, showing 44% of respondents supporting Beshear, 17% supporting Adkins, 16% supporting Edelen and 23% undecided — a narrower lead from their February poll, yet larger than what Edelen’s poll indicated.

Yang said the survey also found that among respondents who had seen a Beshear ad, the attorney general was supported by 49%, compared to 19% for Edelen and 17% for Adkins.

Asked who was their second choice in the primary, 61% of Adkins supporters chose Beshear, while the same percentage of Edelen supporters chose Beshear.

This story has been updated with information from Beshear’s pollster, as well as a correction to reflect that the Rotary Club of Louisville changed the format of their candidate forum on Thursday.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]