Just when you — and national Democrats, who stopped advertising in the state last week — thought the Kentucky Senate race was over, it's pulling you back in! That's because of the new Bluegrass Poll, sponsored by a conglomerate of Kentucky media outlets, that shows the race as a statistical dead heat between Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) at 47 percent and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) at 46 percent.
That poll led to tweets like this one from Joe Sonka, a liberal blogger who writes about Kentucky politics.
So, am I history's greatest monster, as Sonka suggests? And just what is really going on in Kentucky?
Let's start with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's decision to drop its ad reservations for the final three weeks of the Kentucky race. At the time, a spokesman for the committee explained it thusly: "The DSCC has now spent more than two million in Kentucky and continues to make targeted investments in the ground game while monitoring the race for future investments, but is currently not on the air in the state." (And, in the intervening week or so, the committee has not gone back on the air.)
Sonka — and other Democrats in the state — argue that the DSCC's decision to go off the airwaves while continuing to invest in a turnout program for Grimes is simply a recognition that there are almost no persuadable voters in the state and that the only thing money can do at this point is help identify and turnout supporters. That's a fair point, and one a Democratic consultant who has worked extensively in the state made to me when the DSCC made its decision last week.
But why not fund that get out the vote program AND spend a few million dollars bashing McConnell/lauding Grimes on TV? If the race was a top priority for national Democrats, they would almost certainly do both — as they are now doing in places like Colorado, Iowa and even Georgia, which appeared to benefit from the committee's decision to pull its ad money from Kentucky.
The critical point to understand here is that the DSCC pulling out its ads does not mean — and did not mean — that the race was entirely unwinnable for Grimes. What it meant (and means) is that Kentucky is viewed as less winnable than other states and, in a world with finite financial resources, that matters. In a cycle like this one for Democrats — a bad one given the map and the national atmospherics due to President Obama's unpopularity — races need to be prioritized, even with the understanding that Grimes isn't likely to get any less than about 48 percent of the vote. (As I noted in my original piece on the DSCC decision, McConnell is such a polarizing figure that getting Grimes or any other Democrat to 47 or 48 percent is easy but getting them over 50 percent is really, really hard.)
So, where does the race really stand today? Remembering that any single poll — even one that fits your preconceived partisan feelings or assumptions — is just a snapshot in time, you have to look at the breadth of data in the race for that answer.
Doing that yields this conclusion: McConnell is ahead — probably by somewhere between three and five points. (The Real Clear Politics polling average gives McConnell a 4.4 percentage point edge.) McConnell has led Grimes in 14 of the last 15 polls conducted in the race. Even the Bluegrass Poll that is providing Kentucky Democrats such joy shows the race moving in the wrong direction; three weeks ago, Grimes led McConnell by two in the survey. (That early October poll is the only one to show the Democrat ahead since early June.)
Kentucky isn't a blowout today, and it won't be two weeks from today, either. There is a scenario by which Grimes wins, but it is not the most likely scenario. (Of the three major election models that aim to predict outcomes, the best chance Grimes has is a 22 percent probability of winning in the FiveThirtyEight model.) If national Democrats believed Kentucky was one of their best chances of winning a Republican seat, they would not have stopped advertising in the state — and started advertising in South Dakota and, especially, the pricier Georgia. The Bluegrass Poll doesn't change that fact.