Analysis: Voters' mood favors Rand Paul, while issues -- not endorsements -- drive election

08/19/2010 07:29 PM

Likely Kentucky voters said they most want Congress this fall to balance the federal budget and repeal the health care bill passed in March — both issues that mesh with the core platform of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul.

The cn|2 Poll taken Aug. 16-18 showed that more than 30% of respondents said balancing the budget should be Congress’ top priority while more than 25% selected the repeal of the health care as the top item for Congress’ to-do list.

“Those are probably the first two things Rand Paul has been talking about,” said Vincent Fields, a Republican campaign consultant who is not working with the Paul campaign. “He’s stayed constant, and that message will drive the election home.”

Q. What issue would you most like to see Congress address this fall?

30.5% Passing a balanced federal budget

25.5% Repealing the health care bill

11.7% Immigration reform

10.2% Extending the Bush tax cuts

7.7% Environmental legislation such as cap and trade

5.2% Approving an additional stimulus bill

View the full poll results and cross-tabs here.

Those poll results came out amid news that the Congressional Budget Office made public its latest estimates for the budget deficit: $1.3 trillion.

Despite the poll showing Paul and Democratic candidate Jack Conway tied at 41% each, those results seem to signal a tough environment in Kentucky this fall for Conway, political strategists from both parties said.

“My first impressiession is that it may favor Paul,” said Jim Cauley, a Democratic consultant. He said those results might be worse for Conway if those answers were provided by the respondents instead of picked from a list given by the survey interviewers. “But if those are the top issues, that advantage would lean toward Rand Paul.”

The cn|2 Poll also showed for the second time this month that Kentuckians would rather see Republicans control Congress than Democrats.

But it wasn’t all good news for Paul on the issues. Paul was quoted by the Associated Press last week as saying that illegal drugs and addiction wasn’t “a pressing issue.” He later moved to clarify those remarks by saying he meant that reforming the judicial process to deal with drug offenders wasn’t the pressing issue.

But the controversy could hurt him, particularly in the eastern part of the state, where 60.2% of respondents in the 5th Congressional District said drug addition was the most pressing problem facing Kentucky.

Even if Paul talks about some of the issues voters care about at the time, they could walk away from a candidate who seems out of touch, Cauley said.

“Voters want to know what you’re going to do for them,” Cauley said. “If they think you don’t understand their world, saying crazy things like drugs aren’t a problem, that might turn people off. People get their cues different ways.”

Endorsements amount to a wash

High-profile endorsements of both U.S. Senate candidates, meanwhile, appeared to have little effect on the race so far.

Many Democratic leaders boasted during the Fancy Farm weekend that the long-awaited decision by Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo to endorse Conway would give the Democrats momentum.

Mongiardo announced his support of Conway in a press release Aug. 3 after a drawn-out drama dating back to the May 18 Democratic primary, which Conway narrowly won by about 4,000 votes out of more than 450,000 cast.

Democrats, such as Party Chairman Daniel Logsdon and Gov. Steve Beshear, said Mongiardo’s endorsement and campaigning on behalf of Conway would help in the eastern and western part of the state.

But the cn|2 Poll showed that, so far, many voters in those areas — the 1st Congressional District in the west and the 5th Congressional District in the east — didn’t know Mongiardo had endorsed Conway.

Q. Are you aware that Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo endorsed Jack Conway?

Total            1st CD               2nd CD            3rd CD         4th CD          5th CD               6th CD

Yes     45.1%            36.6%              45.4%            62.4%            35.8%            38.0%                 48.7%

No      51.9%            61.9%              51.3%            35.7%            61.8%             56.4%                  47.8%

And of those who were aware, an overwhelming majority said it didn’t really matter to them.

Q. If so, how does the endorsement of Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo affect your vote in the U.S. Senate race?

17.0% More likely to vote for Conway

13.9% Less likely to vote for Conway

67.9% No effect

The cn|2 Poll tested whether the backing of U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell would have an effect on Paul’s candidacy. McConnell backed Paul’s opponent, Trey Grayson, during the Republican primary.

And at one point during the primary, Paul criticized Grayson for attending a fund-raiser in Washington hosted by McConnell and other GOP Senators who voted for the multi-billion-dollar bank bailout bill in the fall of 2008. Paul strongly condemned the passage of that bill.

But since the primary, McConnell has provided fund-raising help and advice to Paul and publicly campaigned on Paul’s behalf.

Q. Are you aware that U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell has endorsed Rand Paul?

Total            1st CD                2nd CD            3 rd CD            4 th CD            5 th CD            6 thCD

Yes – 68.5%            59.0%               69.9%               77.4%               69.8%              55.1%              77.3%

No – 29.9%             39.1%                27.9%               19.1%                30.1%              41.5%              20.5%

While more of the respondents were aware of McConnell’s endorsement than Mongiardo’s, on balance the move had little effect on the race, the next question showed:

Q. If so, how does the endorsement of Senator Mitch McConnell affect your vote in the U.S. Senate race?

19.4% More likely to vote for Paul

21.4% Less likely to vote for Paul

67.9% No effect

Political observers said endorsements are useful to signal momentum and generate support among the most dedicated party activists but do little to attract votes.

“You want every endorsement you can get, but at the end of the day you’re trying to speak to two segments of voters: the undecided ones and voters in the middle — the independents,” Cauley said.

And partisan endorsements do little to move them.

Ellen Williams, the former Republican Party of Kentucky chairman, said the “middle bloc of voters” just don’t care about those kinds of inside-politics announcements because they are more focused on issues.

“I don’t think the endorsements at the end of the day make or break the race,” she said.

- Ryan Alessi


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