FRANKFORT — With Kentucky unemployment in the double digits and a near-record 82,000 jobs lost in 2009, it's no surprise the economy is the top issue for both Democrat and Republican voters, according to a new Kentucky Poll.
The telephone survey, commissioned by the Herald-Leader, WKYT-TV and WAVE-TV in Louisville, asked 600 likely voters what issue will most affect their vote in the May 18 primary election.
Forty-one percent of respondents said the economy weighed heaviest on their minds. In second place, with 21 percent of all votes, was government spending. Health care came next with 14 percent, followed by national security at 8 percent; immigration at 5 percent; and moral values and energy policy, both less than 5 percent.
Democrats were slightly more likely to be most concerned about the economy than Republican voters, 43 percent to 38 percent, while Republicans were more likely to be most concerned about government spending, 26 percent to 16 percent.
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The poll, conducted by Research 2000 of Olney, Md. from May 2 to 4, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Some political observers said the four major candidates seeking the Democratic and Republican nominations for the U.S. Senate seat held by Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, have not emphasized the economy enough in campaign advertisements and in speeches.
Danny Briscoe, a Democratic consultant who is not associated with any Senate campaign, said the candidates have spent lots of time and money attacking one another and have not run many issue-based advertisements.
"I've heard a lot of people say it's a quiet election," Briscoe said. "I think part of it is they are not really addressing the issue that's on people's minds."
He also noted that other campaign consultants say few national campaigns are focusing on specific issues as candidates instead try to "tap into people's emotions."
"There is so much anger, angst and anxiety out there," Briscoe said.
In the Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway have been trading barbs for weeks over alleged improprieties.
Conway has questioned Mongiardo's use of a $30,000 housing allowance and his travel expenses. Mongiardo has filed an ethics complaint against Conway, saying he should not be taking money from utility companies while representing Kentucky ratepayers in utility cases before the state's Public Service Commission.
Mongiardo's camp says the lieutenant governor has unveiled a job creation proposal, and the campaign has positioned itself as the one for working people. Mongiardo, in advertisements and in speeches, also has attacked wasteful government spending and Wall Street greed, said Kim Geveden, a spokesman for the campaign.
Geveden said the campaign would like to spend more time on the economy, but it has had to defend itself from Conway's various attack advertisements during the past few weeks. "Jack Conway's throwing mud and is trying to bury us in these specious, baseless attack ads," he said.
Allison Haley, a spokeswoman for Conway's campaign, said it's Mongiardo who has been flinging mud and wasting time on dubious claims.
Conway's overall message is about the economy, Haley said. Conway wants to slash government debt, bring more accountability to Washington D.C., and create jobs, Haley said. Conway also recently launched an advertisement that champions small business tax credits as ways to grow the economy.
In the Republican race, the campaign of Bowling Green eye surgeon Rand Paul has focused on the economic message of smaller government and cutting the national debt, an issue that has resonated with voters, said campaign manager David Adams.
But don't expect Paul to launch a "jobs" plan any time soon, Adams said. "Government does not create jobs," Adams said. "The economy does much better when government gets out of the way."
Paul faces Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the Republican primary.
Nate Hodson, campaign manager for Grayson, said the two-term secretary of state has said repeatedly that "slashing spending" is the best way to create jobs.
But Hodson, in a written statement, also blamed the media for not allowing the candidates to talk about the issues. "There are serious differences between Trey Grayson's record of cutting government spending and Rand Paul's strange ideas," Hodson said.