PADUCAH — A national political newsletter has declared Kentucky's 2014 U.S. Senate race a "toss up" on the eve of the annual Fancy Farm picnic, where Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes will face off for the first time.
In a brief statement Friday by senior editor Jennifer Duffy, the Cook Political Report labeled Kentucky's race a toss up, making it one of the two most competitive races in the nation.
"In the wake of two polls that show the race between Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes within the margin of error, the race moves to the Toss Up column," Duffy wrote.
She noted that Grimes, who is Kentucky's secretary of state, held a slight lead in both surveys by Democratic pollsters. One was conducted for the Grimes campaign by the Mellman Group, which said Grimes was ahead by 2 percentage points. The other was taken by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, which said Grimes held a 1 percentage point lead.
"These results speak to the trouble Kentucky's senior senator finds himself in with the people of Kentucky," said Jonathan Hurst, senior adviser for the Grimes campaign. "Mitch McConnell refuses to stand up for the commonwealth's working families, and his disapproval rating among Kentucky voters reflects just that."
McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, acknowledged that Grimes is running a close race with McConnell, but predicted that her popularity will wane as voters learn more about her policy stances.
"Mitch has a big target on him, but he has a strong back and is well positioned for re-election," Benton said. "Once Alison Grimes is forced to move beyond platitudes and personal attacks and talks about real issues and her support for President Obama and the national liberal agenda she'll have little chance of staying close."
The two candidates will square off at 3 p.m. Saturday at the 133rd annual Fancy Farm picnic on the grounds of St. Jerome Catholic Church in far Western Kentucky in Graves County.
Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com