LEXINGTON, Ky. — Republican Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell would defeat either of the two Democrats vying to replace him in next week's Kentucky primary, a new polls shows.
But McConell's job approval raiting remains below 50 percent, according to the poll, which was conducted for the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper and WKYT television. That would indicate a rare potential weakness when McConnell faces voters in November.
Bruce Lunsford holds a comfortable lead over Greg Fischer in the Democratic primary race, the poll showed, but McConnell would beat either of them by double digits if the election were held today.
Lunsford, a Louisville businessman who ran unsuccessfully last year for governor, leads Fischer, also a Louisville businessman, 43 percent to 23 percent, with 5 percent undecided. Five other Democrats in the race lag considerably.
Name recognition appears to be the major reason for Lunsford’s 20-point lead over Fischer, said Joe Gershtenson, director of Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Kentucky History and Politics.
“Lunsford has been in two races for governor,” Gershtenson said. “This is Fischer’s first statewide race. It takes time to build up name recognition.”
The telephone survey of 500 likely Democratic voters found that 47 percent of respondents have no opinion of Fischer, compared with 35 percent for Lunsford. The poll was conducted May 7-9 by Research 2000 of Olney, Md., and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
McConnell has only token opposition from Williamsburg truck driver Daniel Essek in the GOP primary.
A companion survey of 600 likely Kentucky voters from all political parties shows McConnell beating Lunsford by 12 points and Fischer by 13 points in the general election. His approval rating stands at 48 percent, while 44 percent disapproved. That compares to a 45 percent approval rate and a 46 percent disapproval rate in a poll last October.
Lunsford predicted his deficit against McConnell would diminish after the May 20 primary, which has featured contentious exchanges between Lunsford and Fischer. “You can’t get everybody to settle yet,” he said.
He smells vulnerability in McConnell’s approval rating, noting that McConnell has spent much of the past seven months running advertising touting his accomplishments and telling his personal story. “And he still can’t get to 50 percent,” Lunsford said.
Pollster Del Ali, president of Research 2000, agrees that McConnell is vulnerable, but others downplay the significance of the numbers.
All signs point to McConnell’s re-election, said Larry J. Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Lunsford is the leading candidate to challenge McConnell but his money won’t hurt McConnell because McConnell will have big money of his own,” Sabato said.
McConnell’s huge war chest, his position as Senate minority leader and his long incumbency are too much for any Democrat to overcome this year, Sabato said.
McConnell’s campaign manager, Justin Brasell, said only that “we look forward to a spirited debate with our eventual opponent during the general election.”