Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear holds a substantial lead over two Republicans and an independent candidate who are angling to block his re-election efforts next year, a new Kentucky Poll shows.
If the race were held today, Beshear and his choice for lieutenant governor — Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson — would outdistance the two declared Republican slates by 15 points or more.
The poll also showed that more than half of Kentuckians — 56 percent — approve of Beshear's job performance, and 26 percent disapprove. Eighteen percent are not sure.
When paired against Republican Senate President David Williams of Burkesville and running mate Richie Farmer, the state agriculture commissioner, 45 percent of likely voters gave the nod to Beshear, and 30 percent favored Williams.
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Five percent would back independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith and running mate Dea Riley, a Frankfort political consultant. Twenty percent were undecided.
When paired against Louisville businessman Phil Moffett and running mate Mike Harmon, a state lawmaker from Danville, Beshear got 43 percent of the vote and Moffett 24 percent. Moffett is trying to attract support from the Tea Party movement.
Galbraith would tally 6 percent of the vote, with 26 percent undecided.
The candidates' campaigns tried to put a good face on the poll results.
"While Governor Beshear and Mayor Abramson are pleased by this show of support, they remain focused on maintaining the jobs we already have, and bringing new ones to every corner of Kentucky," said Beshear campaign spokesman Matt Osborne.
Williams' campaign manager, Scott Jennings, said the campaign's own polling shows Williams and Farmer ahead 48 percent to 44 percent.
"David Williams has been tirelessly campaigning for conservative candidates across Kentucky to help win races this year," he said. "We'll focus on the gubernatorial campaign after this year's mission is accomplished."
Moffett's campaign manager, David Adams, said, "The whole world will be watching Kentucky in 2011 to see the Tea Party strangle arrogance and corruption in both political parties.
"What we started with Rand Paul, we will strengthen and expand with Phil Moffett and Mike Harmon.."
Galbraith said he was pleased that an independent poll would include him.
"Very few people know yet that we will be an independent slate next year," he said. "These numbers hit me just fine."
The telephone survey of 625 likely voters across the state was conducted Oct. 18 and 19 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C. It was commissioned by the Lexington Herald-Leader, WKYT-TV in Lexington and WAVE-TV in Louisville. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The poll did not include perennial Democratic candidate Otis "Bullman" Hensley Jr., a Harlan County demolition contractor who runs limited campaigns. His running mate is Evarts coal miner Richard Robbins.
Political observers say it is not surprising that Beshear enjoys a strong lead a year before the election.
"Beshear is the incumbent with a clean record, and he has a running mate who has good name recognition," said University of Louisville political science professor Dewey Clayton.
"I doubt Williams has the name recognition across the state Beshear has, and his running mate already has run into a few problems — nothing illegal but some unflattering newspaper reports," Clayton added.
The Herald-Leader reported Oct. 17 that Farmer and three top aides took an eight-day trip to a Caribbean luxury resort this summer that cost taxpayers more than $10,000. While there, they attended the annual meeting of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
In August, the Herald-Leader reported that Farmer, who is well-known for his basketball prowess at the University of Kentucky in the 1990s, had spent about $445,000 buying 19 new vehicles for his department — including a $35,340 car for his own use that replaced a 2-year-old vehicle — while the rest of state government cut back.
Professor Clayton said Moffett must find a way to dramatically increase his name recognition but should not be counted out.
"If the Tea Party gets stronger in Kentucky, that could work to Moffett's advantage," Clayton said.
Brian Clardy, an assistant history professor at Murray State University who mentors student political groups, said Beshear has been known in Kentucky politics for several decades and has gotten publicity in recent months as he traveled the state to announce the creation of jobs.
Clardy predicted that the gap between Beshear and his challengers will narrow in coming months.
"Right now, Kentuckians are focused on the U.S. Senate race. But it won't take long after the Nov. 2 election for the 2011 governor's race to heat up," he said.
Moffett's campaign is planning a Nov. 4 event to highlight his campaign in Williams' hometown of Burkesville.
Count Mark Bolt, a Floyd County resident who teaches at Pikeville College, among the Kentuckians who have not yet concentrated on next year's governor race.
Bolt, who took part in the poll and agreed to a follow-up interview with a reporter, said he leans Republican but is keeping an open mind.
"That seems like a long way off, but I know it will start soon after we get this race over (for the U.S. Senate)," he said.
Chloe Robbins, a Republican and a retired accountant in Murray, said she would like for Williams to be governor.
"I like his stand against expanded gambling," she said. "I lived in Las Vegas, and I saw first-hand all the vices it attracts and its devastation to families."
But Richard Young, a Republican and retired Louisville banker, said he likes Beshear.
"The guy has done a pretty good job considering the economy," Young said, noting that incumbents usually fare well "if they don't get into a lot of trouble."
In a match between Beshear and Williams, Beshear led among every sub-group polled except Republicans.
Williams, who has led the state Senate for a decade, managed to pick up only 56 percent of the Republican vote. Beshear snared 16 percent of Republicans, Galbraith took 6 percent, and another 22 percent were undecided.
Among Democrats, Beshear garnered support from 68 percent, compared with 12 percent for Williams, 4 percent for Galbraith and 16 percent who were undecided.
Beshear held a 13-point advantage over Williams among independents, although about one third of independents were undecided.
Beshear held a 24-point lead over Williams among women, although more than one in four women were undecided, compared with only 12 percent of men.
In a match between Beshear and Moffett, Beshear enjoyed even larger leads among most sub-groups. Moffett picked up support from 44 percent of Republicans, while another 16 percent went for Beshear and 35 percent said they were undecided.
Beshear's approval rating was well above 50 percent with men, women, Democrats and independents. Among Republicans, 42 percent disapproved, and 37 percent approved. More than one in five Republicans weren't sure about Beshear's job performance.
Beshear got approval from 69 percent of Democrats, while 13 percent disapproved, and 18 percent weren't sure.