Alison Lundergan Grimes has had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in the Kentucky Senate race: The week was dominated by her refusal to say whether she voted for Barack Obama for president, she trailed by four points in a new Fox News poll, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has now pulled its ads from the race.
But a new polling analysis shows the extraordinary headwinds she has faced in trying to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this year -- and why it might just be too much to overcome.
On Friday, Gallup reported Kentucky Democratic party identification and President Obama's approval rating in the state fell to record lows in the first half of 2014. The share of Kentuckians saying they identify with or lean toward the Democrat Party dropped from 45 last year to 39 percent, giving Republicans their first edge in leaned party ID.
You might ask, "How much does party identification matter if Democrats had an edge on it in 2012 but Obama still lost the state by 33 points?" Party identification is indeed more complicated in southern states, with many older diehard Democrats holding conservative political views and voting Republican in federal elections. As these Democrats get older and exit the electorate (or finally convert to the GOP), we should expect Kentucky to become more Republican.
But the shift in this year's Gallup surveys shows an acceleration in Democrats' falling party identification, suggesting the party's brand has taken a hit above and beyond the aging southern Democrat dynamic.
Gallup's data, in fact, point to a major source of souring views of the Democratic Party: Obama. The president's approval rating has fallen an identical six points since last year, from a very bad 35 percent to even-worse 29 percent -- falling faster than it has nationally since 2012.
Put another way, if Grimes is to somehow win a majority of the vote in Kentucky, she must convince roughly one-fifth of the electorate and two-fifths of her voters to support her despite disapproving of her party's leader. Threading that needle is difficult, as was clear this week in her refusal to say whether she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
While horrible for Democrats in Kentucky, Gallup's polling actually likely paints a better environment for Grimes than she will face on Nov. 4. The poll is among all voting-age adults, only about half of whom are likely to vote this year. Republicans typically have a turnout advantage that is more pronounced in midterm elections, which is also suggested by a Washington Post-ABC News poll this week. In other words, the electorate that turns out to vote in two and half weeks might not even give Obama a 29 percent approval rating.
The race is not over, of course, and the fact that McConnell has not run away with it is a clear sign of his weak approval ratings and the state's willingness to consider voting for moderate Democrats.
But Gallup's polling makes clear the monumental forces working against Grimes' candidacy, which always made beating McConnell unlikely.