Barely a week after the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) announced it was not going to fund additional television ads in support of challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign to defeat incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the Kentucky U.S. Senate race, the committee has reversed course. On Wednesday, the DSCC confirmed it will be launching a new ad buy in support of Grimes for the last two weeks of the campaign.
According to Politico, the new buy will be for $650,000.
Seeking to stop press reports that the DSCC reversal indicates the Grimes campaign has regained the momentum in the race, the McConnell campaign released an internal poll, also on Wednesday, that shows he now leads Grimes by eight points.
The renewed commitment of DSCC resources in support of Grimes comes after two weeks of non-stop gaffes from her campaign.
First came Grimes’ repeated refusal to tell anyone if she voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Then came a James O’Keefe undercover video that showed her supporters saying she was lying about her support for the coal industry. Finally, several left-wing organizations who support her called for the withdrawal of her campaign ad attacking McConnell for voting yes on the 1986 immigration reform law that granted amnesty to three million illegal aliens.
Polling of the Kentucky U.S. Senate race over the last three weeks has been all over the map. A Survey USA poll released in early October showed Grimes up by two percentage points, the first time in months a poll showed her in the lead. That poll was followed by a Rasmussen Reports poll released last week showing McConnell up by eight percentage points. On Monday, a new Survey USA poll showed McConnell up by one percentage point. Western Kentucky University’s Big Red Poll, also released on Monday, showed McConnell up by three percentage points.
McConnell’s internal poll showed he leads Grimes by a 49% to 41% margin.
Unlike its intermittent support of the Grimes campaign in broadcast advertising, the DSCC has never waivered in its financial support for the Grimes ground game. Early in the campaign (prior to August 31, the most recent date for which Federal Election Commission reporting is available) that support appeared to be less in Kentucky than in Arkansas. Both states are part of the DSCC’s $60 million “Bannock Street project” ground game effort.
The Grimes campaign ground game, however, may have steadily ramped up from September 1 until now. Delays in processing of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on more recent spending by all Senate campaigns have prevented confirmation of a possible ground game ramp up by either side in Kentucky.
It is more difficult to quickly ramp up a ground game effort with the stroke of a check, since the hiring of people and training on technology tools requires weeks and sometimes months. Sudden reductions in financial commitments to ground game efforts are less common than last-minute reductions in spending on broadcast advertising.
Similarly, sudden increases in spending on ground game operations are usually only made when there is an existing ground game infrastructure that can quickly capitalize on those increases.
This may explain a report in the The Hill this Wednesday that “DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil… noted on Tuesday of last week that he had wired $300,000 to the Democratic get-out-the-vote operation in Kentucky.”
The McConnell campaign, though it claims to have a robust ground game, has provided little evidence to support that claim. Like other GOP officials around the country, McConnell operatives remain highly secretive about the details of their ground game operations.
Both The Hill and the Louisville Courier-Journal reported earlier this week that the McConnell campaign’s offer to pay the expenses of volunteers who participated in McConnell’s recent three day, 17 stop bus tour may be an indication that McConnell lacks enthusiastic support in the state.
Both publications, however, missed the more important possibility that arises from that report. It suggests that McConnell does not have an army of paid canvassers around the state who could be easily redeployed from canvassing in their area to attending a candidate bus-stop tour event. Such a temporary respite from the daily grind of door knocking would be viewed by paid canvassers as a motivating reward.
Democrats around the country predict that their superior ground game will add anywhere from one percentage point to four percentage points to the final poll numbers of their party’s candidates in the ten contested Senate races on the ballot in 2014.