U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and potential Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes are tied in a new poll of Kentucky voters, though state Republicans are calling the results a "sham."
The poll, by Public Policy Polling, stated that McConnell and Grimes were each supported by 45 percent of Kentucky voters. In April, a PPP poll showed Grimes trailing by 4 points. In December, she trailed by 7 points.
The PPP poll was paid for by the Senate Majority PAC, an organization founded with the help of Democratic U.S. Senator Harry Reid, the current majority leader.
Republicans are characterizing the results as "push polling"—a poll that tries to influence answers through the questions asked.
The PPP poll's critics say the questions directly comment about McConnell, his tenure in the Senate or some of his votes, rather than asking more simple questions as scientific polls often do.
The former Miss America has joined a list of half a dozen party activists or leaders waiting for Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to decide whether she'll run in 2014 against Mitch McConnell for his U.S. Senate seat.
If Grimes run, she's likely to get enough support to clear out the field. Otherwise, the Democrats have potential candidates known within political circles, but who may be not instantly recognizable with the majority of voters—former state Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gorman or environmental activist Tom FitzGerald, for example.
Without Grimes, Democrats may find themselves with a crowded primary—and that would cause problems in a bid to unseat McConnell, who polls suggest is vulnerable, says Dewey Clayton, a political scientist for the University of Louisville.
Governor Beshear has some strong words about the state's senior U.S. Senator. During a visit to Bowling Green Wednesday, Beshear told WKU Public Radio that he thinks Republican Mitch McConnell symbolizes the partisan bickering and obstructionism that has plagued Washington D.C. recently.
"And of course Sen. McConnell has been a part of that for the past 30 years. It's gotten worse, it hasn't gotten better. And he's gotten to be part of the problem and not part of the solution. So I think people are looking for a change," said Beshear. "We just have to give them a good alternative."
Beshear says he believes Senator McConnell would be "vulnerable" against a strong Democratic challenge next year.
McConnell has said he's ready to defend his record against any challengers during the 2014 Senate contest, and believes the majority of Kentuckians support his efforts to block key parts of President Obama's agenda.
McConnell has been amassing a campaign war chest and staffers to help his re-election efforts. Scott Jennings, a longtime Kentucky GOP operative who is working with two SuperPacs that support McConnell, says the Republican incumbent has attracted a great deal of support based on his legislative work in Washington.
"And I think that's why you're seeing such an early formation of a political apparatus designed to re-elect him, because he's done a good job and he's done right by the state of Kentucky and that's why you have some of these folks doing what they're doing," Jennings recently told Kentucky Public Radio.
Democrats have yet to land a high-profile challenger to take on McConnell next year.
Kenny Colston's report on Kentucky's 2014 U.S. Senate race
Senator Mitch McConnell's next election is a year and a half away, and he doesn't have a serious opponent. But this hasn't stopped him from amassing significant money and personnel for his re-election.
Every week, new field directors, political staff and fundraisers join the effort to re-elect McConnell. But while they have the same goal, they don't have the same boss. Some of the staffers work for McConnell's campaign. Others are paid by the Republican Party of Kentucky, while some answer to various SuperPACs.
Scott Jennings is in that last category. He's a longtime political operative who has worked on two presidential campaigns and for McConnell in the past. This year, he's working with the newly-formed Kentuckians for Strong Leadership and the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which has just begun running ads supporting conservative ideas.
Jennings controls those organizations from an East Louisville office, which he shares with the PR firm he founded this year.
Jennings says conservative interest in the race has picked up now because supporters respect the role McConnell has played in blocking President Barack Obama's agenda.
Kentuckians have 590 days-plus before the 2014 general election, but already the political chatter is centered on potential challengers to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell—chiefly actress Ashley Judd and her potential candidacy's supposed strengths and weaknesses.
But Judd isn't the only possible candidate. Many veteran Kentucky political operatives—not to mention rural Democrats—are pushing a prospective Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes candidacy over Judd's. And some Tea Party groups are pushing Louisville businessman Matthew Bevin as a possible challenger to McConnell in the Republican primary.
With so many stories, quotes and talk flying around on these three candidates, here's a look at the positives and negatives that each could bring to the table in 2014. The list is by no means exhaustive, but's a reflection of what's being said publicly and privately in Kentucky and national political circles.
* Near universal name recognition. Supporters point out that Judd's work as an actress, plus as a prominent University of Kentucky basketball fan, gives her the best name ID of any candidate rumored in the race. And they point out that good name ID leaves more money to use on things other than introductory ads.
A feisty Mitch McConnell promised to take the fight to any opponent as the Senate's top Republican got a head start on a 2014 re-election campaign that could squeeze him between challenges from his own party as well as from Democrats.
Kentucky's longest-serving senator opened a campaign office in his hometown of Louisville on Saturday, about a year earlier than in his previous campaigns. It was a clear message to critics as he vowed to wage the "biggest and best campaign this state has ever seen."
"They want to take me out," McConnell told a group of supporters. "This is the only race in the country with any national significance. And that's why we're up and running this far in advance."
The Senate minority leader then declared, "If they want to fight, we're ready."
Politics makes strange bedfellows. That wise old adage is being proven once again in Kentucky, where some liberal activists and left-wing super PACs are telling Tea Party groups they'll support a conservative challenge against U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in the 2014 GOP primary.
Politico reports the goal for liberals would be to "soften up" McConnell in the primary, in hopes that he would then be vulnerable against a strong Democratic challenger in the November general election.
No big-name Democratic challengers have thrown their hats into the ring yet, with only Owensboro home-builder Ed Marksberry so far committing to the race. Rumors have been swirling regarding a potential Senate run by Kentucky-born actress Ashley Judd, but Judd recently said she is undecided about entering the race.
McConnell finds himself taking heat from the right, with some Kentucky Tea Party groups accusing the GOP incumbent of being too moderate in recent negotiations over the fiscal cliff.
And a recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll shows 34% of those surveyed said they would vote against McConnell in 2014, with just 17% saying they'll vote for the Louisville Republican. Forty-four percent said they were undecided.
In a new poll, nearly twice as many Kentucky voters who have made up their minds say they will vote against U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in 2014, as opposed to those who say they will definitely support him. The poll comes as both conservative and progressive groups are mobilizing to recruit candidates to challenge McConnell.
The Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll finds 34 percent of registered voters plan to vote against McConnell while 17 percent say they would give him another six years. Forty-four percent are undecided and say they will wait to see who is running against him.
Arguing McConnell is too moderate, more than a dozen tea party groups from across the state say they are actively recruiting someone to challenge McConnell in the GOP primary and their top priority is to ultimately retire the five-term senator.
Nearly two years before he faces re-election in 2014, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has been under regular attack for his policy stances — from both conservative and progressive groups in Kentucky.
The most recent criticism is coming from McConnell’s right, as more than a dozen tea party groups have signed a letter protesting the Senate Republican leader's stances. On the other side, a group called Progress Kentucky has protested the senator a handful of times already in 2013.
Jasmine Farrier, a political science professor at the University of Louisville, says it’s natural for different groups to rally against an incumbent before an election — but it may not mean much in terms of McConnell's ability to win a sixth term.
“It would not be surprising for there to be protests, criticism and press releases daily between now and the election in 2014," Farrier said. "But that does not mean there is an actual contender who is threatening the senator’s seat either from the Republican side or from the Democratic side."