Democrats are desperate to recruit a challenger to GOP Senate Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). After a Spring Fling with actress Ashley Judd, adults in the party realized they needed a more credible opponent. Most potential contenders have passed on the race, leaving Democrats hoping Secretary of State Alison Grimes, scion of political insiders, will take up the challenge. To convince Grimes to enter the race, Democrat polling firm PPP is promoting a poll showing the potential match-up tied.
This headline number obscures a more meaningful measure of the race. McConnell is quickly solidifying his position among Republican voters. A large part of McConnell’s potential vulnerability was distrust among his Republican base. Democrats had hoped to capitalize on this and put forward a candidate who could appeal to Independents and Republicans. According to Tuesday’s PPP poll, however, that window is closing.
In April, PPP found that only 53% of Republican voters approved of the job McConnell was doing. Tuesday’s poll, however, found that now 70% of Republican voters approve of McConnell’s performance. The dramatic 17-point improvement is a clear sign that the base is coming home to McConnell. If this trend continues, Democrats will have little hope of flipping the seat next November.
Tuesday’s PPP poll closely resembles a “push poll,” where respondents are given one-sided information about a candidate to assess whether a particular issues resonates with voters. It is an effective tool to test possible campaign messages, but a very misleading measurement of the current state of a race. Absent the push-polling questions, its likely that McConnell’s standing among base voters, and the general public, is even better than the current poll suggests.
To be sure, there are a number of challenges for McConnell in the coming months. Immigration will come to the floor next month, and opposition to the measure is growing among base voters. Before the end of the year, there will be deals on the budget, spending and the debt ceiling. Any one of these issues could reverse McConnell’s growing support among the Republican base.
A skilled politician, McConnell no doubt understands this. Defeating him is the Democrats’ greatest prize in 2014. Tuesday’s PPP poll suggests that prize is increasingly out of reach.