Candidates with more money to spend on television commercials pulled ahead over the last 30 days in most of Kentucky's down-ballot races for statewide office, according to the Bluegrass Poll.
In the race for attorney general, for example, 47 percent of likely voters polled last Friday through Monday said they supported Democrat Andy Beshear, compared to 35 percent for Republican Whitney Westerfield and 17 percent who were undecided.
Beshear and Westerfield tied at 38 percent in the previous Bluegrass Poll a month ago. But October brought a bombardment of television advertising in their contest — largely attack ads, with Westerfield on the receiving end more often than not. As of Oct. 19, both candidates and two outside committees reported spending a total of $5.52 million in the race. The cash advantage skewed toward Beshear, son of outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
There was similar movement in two other down-ballot races with lopsided finances that were all but tied a month ago, according to SurveyUSA, which polled 798 likely voters for the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville.
Republican Ryan Quarles, who has spent at least $275,796 trying to get elected as agriculture commissioner, is up seven points over Democrat Jean-Marie Lawson Spann, who spent only $32,254. And Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen, who has spent at least $608,949 to win a second term, is eight points ahead of Republican Mike Harmon, who has spent just $27,643. Quarles and Edelen have dominated their opponents on the airwaves.
The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Advertising for the lesser-known offices launched just as voters started to think about next Tuesday's election, which could explain how scales are tipping in different contests, said Matthew Howell, a political scientist at Eastern Kentucky University.
"As a general rule, down-ballot races are the ones that people don't pay much attention to," Howell said. "It makes sense that the candidates with more money would be better able to get their names and their stories out there, and so people would be more aware of them."
The candidates for attorney general and two outside groups — the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Democratic-backed Bluegrass Alliance for Consumer Rights — have spent a fortune leveling accusations in 30-second spots.
The Republicans say Beshear would do the bidding of Democratic President Barack Obama, who is hugely unpopular in Kentucky, and Beshear's "special interest" campaign donors, such as his father's political appointees, state contractors and Frankfort lobbyists. The Democrats say Westerfield is incompetent. One ad shows an actor in a bathrobe with cucumber slices on his eyes, enjoying a day at the spa rather than prosecuting criminals — supposedly Westerfield, who was an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Christian County before joining the state Senate in 2013.
The candidates also have aired flattering autobiographical profiles, with Beshear touting his experience as a respected litigator on complex cases and Westerfield talking about his work as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Since the last Bluegrass Poll, in late September, Beshear has gained nine points and Westerfield has lost three points. Beshear did especially well solidifying his support among the Democratic base, without which it will be difficult for him to win. Seventy percent of Democrats in the new poll said they back Beshear, compared to 59 percent a month ago.
Also, Beshear is decisively ahead of Westerfield in the three congressional districts based around the urban areas of Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky, while the two men are essentially neck-and-neck in the three rural congressional districts.
Poll respondent Winston Dillon, 52, said he decided to vote for Beshear based on television and radio commercials.
"He (Beshear) just seems more trustworthy," said Dillon, of Prestonsburg. "And he's got a good background, a good record for the job, and good ethics. That's what I hear."
John Faurest, 71, said he'll vote for Westerfield out of loyalty to the Republican Party.
"I hate to say this, but I'm a very partisan person," said Faurest, of Louisville. "I just don't like the way Democrats have been running things. And with this Andy Beshear, would he even be running if it weren't for his last name? Would anyone even know who he is if he wasn't the governor's son?"
Here's a closer look at the other down-ballot races.
Quarles, a Republican state representative from Georgetown, has widened his lead over Spann, a Democratic farm businesswoman and broadcaster from Union.
Quarles was preferred by 40 percent of the poll respondents compared to Spann's 33 percent. But a hefty 24 percent of the respondents said they remain undecided and 3 percent said they were not following the race.
Quarles led Spann 34 percent to 31 percent in a Bluegrass Poll released Sept. 28
Quarles solidified his standing among Republicans in the latest poll, grabbing 73 percent of the GOP vote. Only 53 percent of registered Democrats backed Spann.
He holds a 13-point advantage among men, and the two candidates are tied at 33 percent among likely women voters.
No woman has ever been state agriculture commissioner and the last two farm chiefs — James Comer and Richie Farmer — have been Republicans.
Quarles also did better than Spann among respondents with four years of higher education, 45 percent to 30 percent, and among those with an income of more than $80,000, 44 percent to 36 percent.
Quarles' strongest support came in Western Kentucky and Central Kentucky, where he lead by double-digit margins. The only area of the state in which Spann led Quarles was Jefferson County, 42 percent to 30 percent.
Poll respondent Roger Stubbs, a retired construction worker in Campbell County, said he likes Quarles because "he is more conservative."
Elizabeth Mills, an artist in Madison County, said she will "crawl to the polls even if both of my legs are broken" to vote for Spann.
"Most people don't know that much about all these races but I understand Jack Conway and Alison Lundergan Grimes are for Jean-Marie and so am I," Mills said.
Auditor of public accounts
Edelen, a Lexington Democrat, leads state Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, 42 percent to 34 percent in the contest for state auditor, the poll found. Still, 22 percent of likely voters remain undecided and 3 percent are not following the race.
Edelen's advantage has climbed from a month ago, when he led 35 percent to 33 percent.
Harmon, who has been in the state House 13 years and is an insurance agent, has not been able to raise funds for TV advertising, while Edelen has amassed nearly $1 million in campaign funds.
Edelen, who has been mentioned as a possible challenger next year to Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, leads among men and women and all age groups.
In the state's regions, Edelen's biggest advantage is in Jefferson County, where he leads 53 percent to 22 percent. In Eastern Kentucky, Edelen was favored 42 percent to 32 percent for Harmon.
But Edelen trails Harmon, 37 percent to 31 percent in Western Kentucky's 1st Congressional District and 42 percent to 40 percent in Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.
Both candidates enjoy 65 percent of their party members' support.
Secretary of state
Grimes, the Democratic incumbent from Lexington, holds a 50 percent to 37 percent lead over Republican challenger Steve Knipper, the latest poll shows. Twelve percent remain undecided and 1 percent is not following the race.
She was ahead 46 percent to 38 percent a month ago.
Grimes, who was easily defeated by Republican Mitch McConnell in last year's U.S. Senate race, leads Knipper in every area of the state except west-central Kentucky's 2nd Congressional District. Knipper, an executive at Catholic Health Initiatives and a former member of the Erlanger City Council, holds a 51 percent to 42 percent lead over Grimes in the 2nd District.
Knipper, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for a state House seat in 2008, trails Grimes 50 percent to 36 percent in his home congressional district in Northern Kentucky.
The poll shows Grimes ahead in every age group and among lower- and middle-income voters.
The race for state treasurer remains a toss-up, with Republican Allison Ball, a Prestonsburg attorney, holding a 2-point edge over Democrat Rick Nelson, a state representative and retired teacher from Middlesboro.
Ball's 37 percent to 35 percent lead is well within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. One in four likely voters — 25 percent — remains undecided and 3 percent are not following the race.
The race has shown little movement from a month ago, when Ball led Nelson 35 percent to 33 percent.
In the state's regions, Ball's biggest lead was in west-central Kentucky's 2nd Congressional District, where she was up 14 points. Nelson was ahead in Jefferson County and Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.
Both candidates are from Eastern Kentucky, where Ball holds a 9-point lead.