Democrats brace for U.S. Senate barn burner

05/13/2010 03:25 PM

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jack Conway and Daniel Mongiardo are banking on the power of Wendell Ford and an anti-establishment message, respectively, to make the difference in what looks from the latest polls to be a tight election on Tuesday.

Jack Conway and Daniel MongiardoConway, the attorney general, has sought to harness the lasting influence of retired U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford. UPDATED: Conway’s campaign is airing a commercial in Ford’s backyard of Western Kentucky that leads off by highlighting Ford’s endorsement, although it dosen’t feature the former senator and governor addressing the camera.

Ford, who held this now-open Senate seat before Republican Jim Bunning won it in 1998, will campaign with Conway on Friday.

Mongiardo, the lieutenant governor, has lagged behind Conway in fund-raising and, thus, in his frequency of airing campaign commercials. But Mongiardo’s campaign uploaded a one-minute ad on Youtube, again hammering Conway for taking contributions from utility company officials at the same time as representing Kentuckians as attorney general in rate cases.

“The attorney general is supposed to be a watchdog protecting rate payers against utility rate hikes,” the ad says as fast-paced ominous music pulses in the background. And it uses a soundbite from the recent televised debate on KET in which host Bill Goodman mentions that “Attorney General Conway approved more than $120 million in utility rate increases.”

The ad is Internet-based only right now but parts of it could be packaged for cable ads, said Kim Geveden, Mongiardo’s campaign spokesman.

That line of attack has resonated with voters, particularly those who are angry about government on all levels, Geveden said.

“People are fed up. They can’t afford it,” Geveden said. “They realize the person who’s supposed to represent them wasbeing influenced by the utility companies.”

Geveden said Conway has proven himself to be the “establishment candidate” and cited the very endorsements Conway’s ads have touted: the Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader editorial boards, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Congressman Ben Chandler and, yes, even Ford.

If that anti-establishment approach sounds familiar, that’s because Rand Paul, the Bowling Green eye surgeon, has employed that strategy for the last year and now sits atop the GOP primary.

Allison Haley, Conway’s spokeswoman, laughed at Mongiardo’s campaign piggy-backing on that brand.

“I can’t imagine that that argument would hold any water with Kentuckians,” she said. “He’s held elected office for 10 years and he’s campaigned in nine of the last 12 years — three times now as a statewide candidate. He is certainly entrenchd in the culture.”

In fact, Haley added, Mongiardo has taken advantage of his office by racking up travel bills on the taxpayers’ dime.

The two Democratic front-runners have traded those shots — the utility campaign donations to Conway and Mongiardo’s housing allowance and travel paid by the state — throughout the race. So no one is breaking new ground in the final week with a change in message.

And each finishes with a different strength. Conway has had more money to spread his message on TV. But Mongiardo has established a deeper and more organized ground game heading into the final weekend and Tuesday’s primary.

So this one promises to be close, and the polls, as the polls reflect. SurveyUSA’s poll for the Courier-Journal and WHAS showed Mongiardo up by a point. The Daily Kos is expected to release it’s poll Thursday showing a three-point edge for Mongiardo after the same polling firm, Olney, Md.-based Research2000 showed a 7-point lead for Mongiardo last week. UPDATE: The Daily Kos results are up: Mongiardo 39 to Conway 36.

- Ryan Alessi

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