Beshear leads Williams in Ky. governor's race by 21 points after ad blitz, cn|2 poll shows

06/09/2011 05:56 PM

After airing ads for the last three weeks, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear posted a 21-point lead over the Republican challenger David Williams, according to the latest cn|2 Poll.

Beshear and his running mate, Jerry Abramson, received 51% of support compared to just under 30% for Williams and his running mate, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer. The independent ticket of Gatewood Galbraith and Dea Riley polled at below 6%, and nearly 14% said they were undecided.

With a lot of time and ad money to be spent before November, Galbraith and Williams have room to grow their support.

Nearly 30% of respondents didn’t have an opinion of Williams, indicating that he still can define himself for a large chunk of voters. But the numbers also show that at least for this snapshot in time, Beshear has accrued goodwill among likely voters.

“There’s been a debate about whether the TV is effective. I don’t think it’s winning any votes to speak of, but it’s helping him with the perception battle,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and former political writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The cn|2 Poll was conducted June 6-8 by live interviewers from Braun Research, Inc. The 802 respondents contacted for the survey voted in the 2007 or 2010 elections or both with about 88% of those surveyed having voted in both.

The poll has a margin of error of 3. 5 points. You can view the methodology and the detailed results and crosstabs here:
June 2011 election poll.pdf [944.17KB]

Of the 802 respondents, 59.6% were registered Democrats, 35.8% were registered Republicans and 3.9% independents and others — in line with recent turnout in gubernatorial election years of 61% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 4% others.

But when asked which political party they felt closer to, 45.4% of those polled said the Democratic Party and 41.5% said the Republican Party while 13.2% said they were unsure.

Who’s up, who’s down?

Beshear has been running ads for three weeks virtually unchallenged by his opponents, while Williams is coming off a closer-than-expected Republican primary on May 17.

Some tea party activists, who preferred Phil Moffett in the GOP primary, publicly expressed reservations about backing Williams. Among the Republicans surveyed 58% said they are backing Williams while more than 20% picked Beshear.

Cross said Williams is having trouble with Republicans on both wings – more moderate Republicans, especially those in Louisville, and some ultra-conservatives who were more in line with the tea party.

“Some Republican say he suffered a defeat in the primary” by failing to get a majority of support, Cross said. Williams and Farmer won the three-way primary with 48% of the vote.

“If you look at the numbers, maybe he did,” Cross said. “He’s not going in the right direction.”

In the cn|2 Poll from March 2 , Williams and Farmer were down to Beshear and Abramson by 10 points, 48% to 38%. But since then, a string of news stories have raised questions about Farmer’s spending as agriculture commissioner, the ticket didn’t meet some expectations in the primary and Beshear has run three weeks of TV ads.

Campaigns react to results

But Luke Marchant, Williams’ campaign manager, said the poll results “do not reflect the reality of the campaign.”

“Interestingly enough, in the last two cycles, Republicans seeking governorships against Democrat incumbents in numerous states had deficits in early polling only to win election after communicating the facts about their opponents,” Marchant said. “The case will be the same in Kentucky.”

Marchant said voters will change their minds once they “learn just how badly the current administration has attended to critical issues.”

For instance, he echoed criticism the campaign has consistently levied against Beshear – that he has failed to lead on revamping the state’s tax code or making changes to the state’s increasingly expensive public employee pension system.

Beshear’s campaign manager, Bill Hyers, issued a statement about polling, saying “while the campaign is always pleased to see strong support for the governor’s hard work, he remains focused on his efforts to bring jobs to every corner of Kentucky.”

Support wide for Beshear but remains to be seen how deep

Other results of the poll show that after serving as governor for more than three years, Beshear is well-known and fairly well-liked.

Nearly 68% of respondents said they had a favorable view of Beshear. And nearly 64% of respondents said they approved of the job he had done as governor.

But much of that support – 43.6% of respondents — came in the “softer” category of “somewhat approve” of the job he has done.

Regionally, his job approval ratings were above 60% and strongest in Louisville, followed by Central Kentucky and the two western Kentucky congressional districts. Eastern Kentucky proved Beshear’s weakest area, where less than 55% percent approved of the job he was doing. (The margin of error on congressional district crosstabs is 8.43 points).

In his ads, Beshear has tried to sell TV viewers on what he’s sought to do on the economy. At the same time, Williams has criticized Beshear’s handling of Kentucky’s unemployment rate, which is higher than the national average.

In all, 41.4% of respondents said Kentucky is going on the wrong track compared to 40.5% who said it’s going in the right direction. That’s better than most polls about the direction of the nation.

“That may be in part because there hasn’t been any great turmoil in Kentucky as a result of the economy,” Cross said. “There’s been a lot of quiet suffering, that’s for sure.”

Cross also said the current turmoil in Washington over federal government spending and debt might make Kentucky seem stable in comparison.

Favorability ratings for Williams, Galbraith

Williams, meanwhile, appears unpopular in the 3rd Congressional District that covers Louisville. He received the highest favorable rating in the 4th District in Northern Kentucky with more than 47%.

Curiously, the highest percentages of respondents who were unsure about Williams came in the 1st and 5th Congressional Districts – the two areas in which his state Senate district straddles.

And more than 40% of respondents had no opinion of Galbraith even though he is running for the fourth time for governor and ran statewide for attorney general once.

Ralph Long, Galbraith’s campaign manager, said Galbraith will be better funded this race than ever before and will receive strong support from state workers and environmentalists who are frustrated with Beshear and disillusioned tea party activists.

“The polling obviously did not include groups like state employees,” Long said of the cn|2 poll. “As we have said before we believe we will have 15 to 20 percent by September 1st and will win the election in November.”

Cross said Galbraith will likely be a factor, but won’t necessarily siphon enough support from either Williams or Beshear to be a spoiler.

“Gatewood is clearly a factor, but I think he draws from both,” Cross said. “He might get over 10% when it’s all over … because both of the other guys have problems with their bases.”

- Ryan Alessi with additional reporting by Kenny Colston

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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