The most recent Bluegrass Poll has found that Mitch McConnell is slightly less popular than President Obama among Kentuckians. (To put that in perspective, in 2012, Obama lost Kentucky by nearly 23 points. This may look dismal, but it’s not so bad when you consider that Congress overall polls as less popular than either cockroaches or colonoscopies…)
It’s been a long time since a Senate leader lost a re-election bid, but independent polls have challenger Alison Lundgren Grimes leading McConnell by 4 points. There’s a lot of time until November, and McConnell will have a lot of money, but his predicament–and his vulnerability–illustrate an increasingly common dilemma for GOP candidates.
Republican candidates have moved so far to the right in order to avoid or defeat Tea Party challengers that they have compromised their appeal even to the less extreme members of their own party. One problem is that, in the age of the Internet, it is no longer possible for either Republicans or Democrats to pander on the “down low” to their respective party bases in order to win the primary and then do a quick pivot to the center for the general election. Every email, every Facebook post and tweet, is forever available to opposition researchers and casual “googlers” alike.
Furthermore, as important as money continues to be, thanks to the Internet, communicating your opponent’s voting history, indiscreet tweets and other political miscalculations is far less expensive than it used to be.
This is a dangerous time for all incumbents. Disgust with Washington is palpable. How citizens’ anger and fatigue will play out across the political landscape is anyone’s guess. Democrats, especially, need to remember the time-honored rule: you can’t beat somebody with nobody–defeating even unpopular incumbents requires a strong candidate. (Speaking of which, Democrats in Indianapolis need a strong mayoral candidate yesterday.)
In Kentucky, Ms. Grimes appears to be that strong candidate. And the “turtle man,” as Jon Stewart refers to McConnell, is definitely unpopular and struggling.
It remains to be seen whether 2014 will be the year that citizens decide they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore–but in Kentucky, at least, prospects for change are looking up.