Despite being close, Democratic race in the shadows

05/17/2010 10:14 AM

The Democratic primary for U.S. Senate looks to come down to the wire Tuesday, if the polls are to be believed, but it would be hard to tell that by the national media coverage.

Most national news organizations that have plugged into Kentucky politics recently have remained focused on the GOP contest where Rand Paul holds a double-digit lead over Trey Grayson in the independent polls. (CNN covered the Republicans over the weekend and the New York Times wrote a piece leading with Paul. The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon Jr. wrote an overview of the race that included the Democrats, but even he said he’ll be focused on Paul and the Republicans come Tuesday.)

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates

Neither of the Democratic front-runners, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo nor Attorney General Jack Conway, seems to mind, though. Both said they understood given Paul’s prominence in the Tea Party movement that has become a major force within the GOP.

“The fact that you’ve got the prince of the Tea Party movement, who is running against a candidate endorsed by Mitch McConnell, I can understand why the national media would come in and cover this,” Conway told cn|2 Politics Sunday. “But it’s going to be an opportunity for the Democratic nominee, whose last name will be Conway, to stand up on Tuesday night and say, you know what, we’re going to run a campaign that appeals to hope rather to fear.”

Likewise, Mongiardo said the national spotlight on Paul is to be expected given the prominence of his father, Texas congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

“There’s a connection there, a familiarity with him,” Mongiardo said of Rand Paul. “That’s going to change in about three days.”

Mongiardo has led Conway in recent independent polls, but that lead has shrunk to a statistical tie in one survey. SurveyUSA’s poll results last week showed Mongiardo up 38-37, with the 1-point difference well within the 3.9 point margin of error. At the same time Paul has topped Grayson in the polls by between 12 and 18 points.

Not only do Conway and Mongiardo seem nonplussed about the lack of attention, but both seem genuinely curious about and attuned to some of the underlying forces behind the rise of the Tea Party movement.

“I think what the Tea Party shows is that people are frustrated and angry,” Mongiardo said. “And there are a lot of people who share that frustration and anger. They’re looking for someone to stand up to change the culture, not just talk about it but actually do it.”

He has molded some of his campaign messages recently to frame himself as the anti-establishment candidate, much like Paul has in the GOP primary.

At a stop at a Jeffersontown restaurant, Mongiardo referred to Conway as being supported by the establishment for the last 60 years – an apparent reference to those who have backed him, such as former senator and governor Wendell Ford.

But Mongiardo is by no means running an insurgent campaign. As lieutenant governor and former state senator, he has garnered support from some of his former colleagues and former Gov. Julian Carroll, who worked in Frankfort in the legislative and executive branches from 1962 to 1979.

Conway claimed he would be the best-positioned Democrat to tap into voter angst that has manifested itself in the Tea Party movement.

“While there are people out there who are passionate and anxious, we’re going to use that passion to heat the building and change some things rather than burn the building down,” Conway said.

But Conway already has drawn the ire of the Tea Party movement in Kentucky for his support of the health care bill Congress passed in March. About 200 people rallied in the state Capitol rotunda to urge Conway, as attorney general, to join other states in a lawsuit against the federal government.

Still, Democrats are hoping that if Paul is the GOP nominee that the sometimes brutal tenor of the Republican primary and some of Paul’s positions, such as eliminating government agencies like the U.S. Department of Education, will be enough to drive moderate Republicans to cross party lines.

“There are going to be a lot of Republicans who are going to be looking for a candidate after Tuesday night,” Conway said.

- Ryan Alessi


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