Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY


September 12, 2010

Not a usual election year

FRANKFORT — A week ago in this space I wrote about a Gallup poll which showed a “generic congressional ballot” preference for Republicans over Democrats of 10 points. This week, the same poll has the two parties in a dead heat at 46-46.

A week ago, multiple polls showed the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Rand Paul close or even tied. Then, on Sunday, the Bluegrass Poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV, put Paul ahead by 15 points.

So what’s going on? Your guess is as good as mine. I can’t explain the polls, but I’m sure voters generally are in a nastier mood than I can ever recall. It’s more anti-incumbent than it is anti-Democrat, but there are more Democratic incumbents. Backing up the notion voters are eyeing incumbents more than party affiliation are poll results which show only 33 percent of voters have a favorable view of Democrats in Congress but Republicans fare a point worse at 32 percent. In Kentucky, the mood may be more anti-Obama than anything else and that isn’t good for Conway or any other Democrat on this year’s ballot.

The SurveyUSA poll is often criticized for its methodology — usually by those who find themselves trailing in it. They question its automated nature. Conway’s campaign disputes the turnout model which they say under sample Democrats. But over the past decade, it has been the most accurate poll in Kentucky. Last week’s published poll has 3rd District Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth leading his Republican challenger Todd Lally by only 2 points in Kentucky’s most urban and most liberal congressional district. If you’re a Democrat running in Kentucky anywhere on the ballot this year, that has to be sobering.

While the Gallup poll swung 10 points in only a week, the same poll found no change in the so-called “enthusiasm gap” which asks registered voters by party how likely they are to vote in November. Republicans are up in that poll 50 to 25. That answers at least in part those who question SurveyUSA’s turnout model. Republicans can’t wait to vote while many Democrats are demoralized.

But you don’t need a poll to know something is just different this year — at least in Kentucky. Just listen. People are fearful, frustrated and some are very angry. Many can’t wait to send a message. That helps explain so many upsets in Republican primaries this year, where so-called establishment candidates have been beaten by candidates affiliated with the TEA Party movement. Nowhere is that more evident than in Kentucky. Democrats were gleeful such candidates won, thinking them easier to defeat in the general election than the better established Republican. But so far, it’s not working out the way Democrats thought, though some of those insurgent Republicans are having trouble in other states.

Kentucky Republicans have begun to think the climate might be enough to affect legislative races and maybe the governor’s election next year. More than one or two Democrats in the House are worried about their re-election. Last week, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said many of the issues which are driving the federal elections — primarily unhappiness about government spending and debt — are the same as those in Frankfort and the legislature. Usually, state legislative races are thought to be somewhat insulated from national trends. They are more often local in nature, about personalities, involving people voters know personally and see in their everyday lives. This year may be different.

But then, this clearly isn’t the usual election year. Just look at those polls.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

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