Mitch McConnell 2014: Does Alison Lundergan Grimes Stand a Shot?

A brand new survey conducted by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) seems to spell trouble for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The new poll has him tied with Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) in a hypothetical matchup for McConnell’s re-election bid in 2014.

PPP interviewed 556 Kentuckians for the poll with 50% reporting to be registered Democrats, 35% to be Republican and 15% to be Independent.

On face value, this appears troubling for McConnell, whose hypothetical lead over Grimes has shrunk from a 7 point lead in December, to a 4 point lead in April, to their current statistical tie.

The report contains further trouble for McConnell as PPP reports only 44% of Kentuckians approve of his job performance, while 47% disapprove. His popularity among independents is especially of concern for the senator as only 41% approve of his job while a majority of 53% disapprove.

The sentiments of the poll are epitomized with the fact that exactly half of the respondents agree in the affirmative with the statement that "Mitch McConnell is part of the problem in Washington, D.C., and has forgotten about the people of Kentucky." 

Despite these telltale signs of tumult, why does McConnell have no reason to worry just yet?

First are the issues with the poll itself. The poll, conducted on behalf of Senate Majority PAC, the Super PAC backing Democratic Senatorial candidates, reveals that Grimes is largely unknown in the state. Despite a 34% favorability rating, a plurality of 42% of poll respondents reported having no opinion on her at all.

There are also several problems with the questions asked by PPP itself.

As Philip Bump of the Atlantic Wire points out,

“The comparison of favorability ratings isn't apples to apples. Respondents were asked about their opinion of McConnell's job performance, not him. Which means that he may be unfairly weighted with the unpopularity of Congress or of certain policy positions. Totally fair data point — but different than asking about voters' opinions of Grimes as a person. Had PPP asked for their opinion of Grimes' job performance, it's possible that she would have done worse. And it's a near-certainty that far more than 40 percent would have had no idea how to respond.”

Furthermore, the report contains some questions with bias against McConnell.

Questions like, “Mitch McConnell has voted to cut taxes for millionaires like himself, while supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare for hardworking Kentucky seniors. Does this make you more or less likely to vote for him, or does it not make a difference?” and “Mitch McConnell has consistently been against increasing the minimum wage for hard-working Kentuckians, even during the current recession. Does this make you more or less likely to vote for him, or does it not make a difference?” directly negatively impact McConnell’s image and could skew the data.

Finally, McConnell has the luxury of running for Senate in a state which Mitt Romney won by 23 points – carrying 117 out of 120 counties – and a state which hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1992. Additionally, McConnell won re-election in 2008 with $21 million and has already raised and more than comfortable $13 million for his re-election bid, including $1.8 million since January.

Despite this, McConnell cannot ignore Grimes.

Grimes met with Kentucky Democratic Governor Steve Beshear last month to discuss her potential Senate run and was privately urged by former President Bill Clinton to run for Senate after promising her the support of both Clintons. Grimes also has the support of the former Kentucky Democratic party chairman - her father. 

Grimes' relatively unknown status in the Bluegrass State also gives her the advantage of no political baggage. Grimes has a rare opportunity to shape the public’s perception of who she is. The downside? So does McConnell. 

Despite the speculation, Grimes still has not officially entered the race, which raises the question: if not Grimes, who could possible challenge McConnell in 2014?

After actress Ashley Judd discussed the senate bid before turning it down, Democrats in the state have been rushing to find a worthy challenger for McConnell.

Heather French Henry, former Miss America (2000), is stirring up buzz as she said she was considering a bid for the senate seat. Henry, who is married to former controversial Kentucky lieutenant governor, Steve Henry, has been politically active in recent years.

She has prioritized the issue of helping our nation’s veterans, her inspiration being her father, a disabled Vietnam veteran. She started the Heather French Foundation for Veterans, which, according to her website, has the goal of educating the public about issues facing today's veterans. She even spent time in Washington, D.C., unsuccessfully lobbying congressman to pass the Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Act.

While there is no answer yet as to who will face McConnell in 2014, state Democrats are getting anxious.

On Tuesday, Rep. John Yarmouth (D-Ky.) called on Grimes and other Democrats to make their decision on who will be their flagbearer and that further delay hurts potential Democratic challengers.

Yarmouth spoke to the local Kentucky radio station WFPL about the race saying, “I do think that it is important that Alison Grimes immediately decide whether she’s running or not because there are a number of people sitting on the sidelines who would be interested I think in making a race who are waiting to find out what she does.” He continued, “For her to keep prolonging this as she said possibly until the late summer I think is a disservice to the party.”