Rand Paul and Jack Conway locked in tie at 41, new cn|2 Poll shows

08/19/2010 05:32 PM

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway appears to have picked up some undecided voters over the last two weeks and is in a dead heat with Republican candidate Rand Paul, the latest cn|2 Poll shows.

When asked which candidate they would support if the election were today, 41.7% of likely Kentucky voters said Conway and 41.2% picked Paul. The survey of 801 voters was conducted Aug. 16 through 18.

“I think it’s natural for these races to tighten up as we go into the fall,” said Ellen Williams, a lobbyist and former Republican Party of Kentucky chairman. “I’m not surprised. But that will change as people really focus on the differences between Paul and Conway.”

The cn|2 Poll conducted Aug. 16-18 shows the U.S. Senate race tied.

The results reflect a 10-point jump for Conway from the last statewide cn|2 Poll taken Aug. 2-4. Support for Paul has held steady at around 41 percent for each of the three statewide cn|2 Polls. View the full results and crosstabs of the Aug 16-18 poll here.

This survey also showed the lowest percentage of undecided voters for the cn|2 Poll at 16.4%. The other two previous polls each showed the percent of undecided voters above 20%.

Paul’s spokesman, in a brief telephone interview, dismissed the results, saying “other more established polling firms are showing a healthy lead for Dr. Rand Paul.” A Rasmussen Reports poll of about 500 voters interviewed by an automated system earlier this week showed Paul with a 49-40 lead over Conway. (See other Kentucky results here).

“With all due respect, your polling has been as about consistent as Jack Conway has been on the issue of extending the Bush tax cuts,” spokesman Gary Howard added. (The Paul campaign has criticized Conway for flip-flopping on his support for keeping the tax cuts.)

The cn|2 Poll is conducted by Braun Research Inc. of Princeton, N.J. It has a margin of error of 3.46 points.

The methodology for the cn|2 Poll has remained the same this summer with live interviewers conducting the survey over a three-day period. It is weighted according to turnout demographics – age, party registration and congressional district turnout — from the recent non-presidential year elections.

Other questions in this cn|2 Poll yielded nearly identical results to previous cn|2 Poll results.

For instance, the survey has been testing whether Kentucky voters would prefer Republicans or Democrats to control Congress. This week’s poll showed a 11.7-point spread in favor of Republicans (47.7% to 36%) compared to a 12.3-point spread for the GOP in the Aug. 2-4 cn|2 Poll.

In addition, this week’s survey reflected that President Barack Obama has a job approval rating of 40.2% in Kentucky. The previous statewide cn|2 Polls have shown Obama’s approval rating at 40% as well.

Jennifer Moore, a Louisville-based Democratic activist and former Democratic Party Chairwoman, suggested that recent statements by Paul that were covered in the media likely hurt the Republican in western and eastern Kentucky, which had the largest blocs of undecided voters two weeks ago.

For instance, the Associated Press last week reported that Paul said drugs were not “a pressing issue” in Kentucky. That came after he said he doesn’t favor devoting federal funding for Operation UNITE, a program created by Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset to provide drug treatment and law enforcement coordination.

This week’s poll results show those statements may have hurt Paul, Moore said.

The cn|2 Poll asked respondents to select the most pressing issue facing Kentucky aside from the recession and unemployment. Nearly a quarter of them said drug addiction. In the 5th Congressional District in Eastern Kentucky more than 60% said drug addiction.

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The Conway campaign attributed the change in support to Paul’s recent remarks.

“Clearly Rand Paul’s belief that illegal drugs aren’t a ‘pressing issue’ isn’t reflective of what Kentucky families are experiencing,” said Allison Haley, Conway’s spokeswoman, in response to questions about the poll. “This is just another example of how out of touch he is with the needs of the Commonwealth.”

Other controversial remarks by Paul might have swayed undecided voters in western Kentucky, Moore said.

Last week, Paul criticized the Fancy Farm picnic in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox. The picnic, at which Paul and Conway spoke on Aug. 7, involves speeches and raucus partisan crowds. Paul described it as “wild” and told Hannity he was afraid someone was going to throw beer on him. But Fancy Farm is in Graves County, which doesn’t allow alcohol sales.

“In Paducah, people are so upset with the way that he described the Fancy Farm picnic, which has been a tradition for 130 years, on a national interview,” Moore said in a telephone interview from her parents’ house in Paducah.  “He insulted the Fancy Farm community and the picnic organizers. And he didn’t even apologize himself. He had a spokesman do it.”

When asked about those issues, Paul’s spokesman Howard, politely ended the telephone interview.

“Thanks for sharing the results with me. I’ve got to go,” he said.

The good news for Paul was that the topic he has talked most about – the national debt – garnered the highest percent from respondents who were asked what the most pressing problem facing Kentucky was aside from the recession and unemployment.

And when asked what issue they hope Congress will take up this fall, 30.5% said a balanced budget and 25.5% said repealing the health care bill that passed in March. Both of those topics are major campaign platforms for Paul.

Conway, meanwhile, said he supported Congress’ passage of the health care bill.

“If the big issues in Kentucky are about health care and the economy, I think Rand Paul reflects Kentuckians’ thoughts on those issues. And when you compare those against Conway and the leadership he’s going to support, it’s no contest,” said Vincent Fields, a Republican consultant who is not affiliated with the Paul campaign.

Fields said results for head-to-head questions about Paul and Conway aren’t very useful this far away from the Nov. 2 election and before the campaign ads begin.

“When the paid media starts, it’s going to be clear that Jack Conway is basically running a campaign on sand,” Fields said. “It’s not a very good foundation to go on.”

Other potential bad news for Conway in the poll is that 71.3% of respondents said they believed Conway, if elected to the U.S. Senate, would support the agenda of Obama, who remains unpopular in Kentucky.

Of those, 30.4% said they believed Conway would strongly support Obama’s agenda.

Regionally, Paul leads Conway in four of the six congressional districts — the 1st and 2nd in western and southern Kentucky, the 4th District in Northern Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky’s 5th District. Conway leads in the 3rd District that covers Louisville and the 6th District in Central Kentucky.

Conway picked up support in every congressional district from the last cn|2 Poll with the biggest jump coming in the 5th Congressional District, where his support increased from 23.9% to 38.3% in two weeks. But Paul still leads Conway in the 5th District with 41.6%.

“It is encouraging that Paul is not over 50% in any of the districts,” Moore said. “But Jack’s going to have to get higher than 52% in Jefferson County and he has some work to do in the 5th (District) and some work to do in the 6th (District) to get over 50% there.”

- Ryan Alessi


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