Will Kentucky's Senate race be like Nevada in 2010 or Nevada in 2012?
The answer could lie in just how much pollster Mark Mellman has to say over the next five weeks.
Over the weekend, The Courier-Journal reported that internal polling by the campaign of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes showed her with a 3-point lead over U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Then on Wednesday, Politico obtained a copy of an internal polling memo that showed Grimes with a 2-point lead.
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Both polls, conducted by Grimes pollster Mark Mellman, run counter to every public poll released. But with those polls all showing McConnell establishing a small but clear lead, there haven't been as many in the field in recent weeks. (Results from the next Bluegrass Poll, conducted for the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville, will be released at 6 p.m. Monday.)
Mellman has insisted his numbers are correct, telling reporters in the second week of September, when Grimes' had a 1-point internal lead, that he was "completely confident" in his methodology and results.
"One of the differences and one of the things that makes us accurate is we're focused on the likely electorate and not just likely voters," Mellman said, although he stopped short of divulging the "secret sauce" of his methodology.
Politico reported Wednesday that Mellman's polling sample is pulled from voter registration rolls, not by randomly dialing phone numbers, as is the case with the Bluegrass Poll and most other public polls.
In 2010, Mellman nailed it, accurately predicting U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's re-election margin when everyone else was getting it wrong.
Then in 2012, as the McConnell campaign reminded folks on Twitter Wednesday morning, Mellman told reporters that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shelley Berkley had a 3-point lead over Sen. Dean Heller. In the end, Heller prevailed by less than 2 points in a Nevada race that went down to the wire.
After that election, Mellman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he polled the outcome accurately, but the campaign didn't share that information for obvious reasons.
"It is true that a poll we did October 8 to 10, about one month before the election, had Shelley up 3 points," Mellman told the paper. "You will also note that we never released any further information, even though we continued tracking each night. That's because we fell behind."
The truth is, internal polls are hard to believe anytime but especially this time of year, when losing campaigns are eager to convince donors and voters they can win.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's pollster and political director told reporters in 2012 that things were looking so good in battleground states like Ohio that they were expanding the map to include Pennsylvania. Romney, of course, lost both.
Mellman was right when he accurately predicted a larger Democratic turnout than traditional polling methods did. Romney's folks were wrong when they bet on the traditional methods for predicting the size of the Democratic turnout.
In Kentucky, it might be telling just how chatty Mellman is down the stretch.
Mitch vs. Mitt on minimum wage
Romney returns to the Bluegrass State on Thursday for a Lexington fundraiser for McConnell, and it seems unlikely that the two will be discussing the possibility of raising the minimum wage.
McConnell has said he doesn't favor raising the wage, a centerpiece of the Grimes campaign.
The senator was recorded at a Koch brothers summit saying that if he is majority leader, the Senate won't be voting on "gosh darn proposals" like raising the wage. That runs counter to McConnell's pledge, made in interviews and on the Senate floor, to reopen an amendment process he criticizes Reid for abandoning.
McConnell has repeatedly said he doesn't favor increasing the wage, arguing that it is especially unwise to do so when the economy is still recovering.
All of that is at odds with Romney, who surprised Senate Republicans in March when he said during an interview with MSNBC that he favored raising the wage.
A number of Democratic groups are planning to protest outside of the Lexington horse farm where Thursday's fundraiser will take place.
A word from the president
It seems that at least some of Kentucky will be hearing directly from the man who defeated Romney in 2012.
President Barack Obama won't be in the Bluegrass State, but he is speaking Friday in Princeton, Ind. So Western Kentuckians in the Evansville media market should get first-hand coverage of the president's visit.
The Obama-Romney scoreboard
In 2012, Romney carried Kentucky 60.5 percent to 37.8 percent.
Another word from another president
Hoping some of his popularity is contagious, Grimes unveiled a television ad Wednesday afternoon featuring a hearty endorsement from former President Bill Clinton, with footage from his August stop in Hazard.
Earlier in the year, Grimes' campaign let it be known to reporters when U.S. News and World Report would declare that the Democrat had "won" the month in her race against McConnell.
The practice ended this summer when McConnell started winning the month, according to the publication. This week, they said the race is "done" and any Democratic money spent here is a "waste."
Meanwhile, The Hill reported Thursday that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said it will nearly quadruple its previous $500,000 investment in Kentucky, launching a $1.4 million television ad campaign against McConnell.