U.S. Sen. Rand Paul contends he's the best Republican presidential candidate to beat potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, citing a national poll released Friday by McClatchy that showed him trailing Clinton by five points, the smallest amount of any GOP contender.
But in Kentucky, where Paul is trying to run for president and re-election to his U.S. Senate seat in 2016, the senator is by no means leaving Clinton in the dust.
For the second time this year, the Bluegrass Poll found that Paul and Clinton would be in a toss-up race if they were nominated for president by their parties.
The latest poll, conducted July 22-28 by SurveyUSA, gave Paul a slim 44 percent to 42 percent advantage over Clinton, with 14 percent undecided.
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The survey of 863 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, leaving the home state candidate in a statistical tie with the former U.S. secretary of state.
When the same question was asked of 2,104 registered voters in a May Bluegrass Poll, the candidates were tied at 45 percent with 11 percent undecided.
According to the latest poll, sponsored by the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and the Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville, Paul loses 14 percent of Republicans to Clinton but picks up 25 percent of Democrats.
When the numbers are broken down along gender lines, Paul does significantly better among men than Clinton, 49 percent to 39 percent, but Clinton has a 7-point lead — 46 percent to 39 percent — over Paul with women.
Poll respondent Mildred Parks, 88, of Franklin County, said she would vote for Clinton over Paul because of Clinton's term as secretary of state.
"She has the ability to be able to talk in such a way that other people trust her, and they can make it better for the United States," Parks said. "I just think she did a good job, and she knows what's good for the country. I remember old Bush got shoes thrown at him once. There wasn't any shoes thrown at her."
Virginia Merrifield, 63, of Nelson County, said she will support Paul because he wants to strengthen individual liberties. Clinton and the Democratic Party, on the other hand, are taking them away, she said.
"I think (Paul) knows what he's doing. He's for our rights, and he thinks that, you know, that we do have rights," Merrifield said. "I don't trust (Clinton) at all. Her husband didn't help us, and she was up there and she was trying to tell him what to do. I just don't want to see another one."
Merrifield also said she would vote for Paul in hopes that the Affordable Care Act would be abolished.
"This insurance, Obamacare, it's good for the welfare people, but it's not good for the middle class people," Merrifield said. "I know that Hillary Clinton is for Obamacare; that's the worst thing we could have."
The latest poll comes as Paul struggles to gain traction on the presidential campaign trail and state Republicans continue to consider whether to grant Paul's request of holding a one-time presidential preference caucus next March. Doing so would help the senator get around a state law that prohibits a candidate from appearing on the same ballot twice.
Stephen Voss, a professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, said the findings likely reflect Kentucky's fundamental political divide.
"At the start of the election, when people are less focused on the details of a real contest and are more likely to be shooting from the hip when they answer poll questions, Kentuckians are fairly even in their preferences between a Democrat and a Republican," Voss said.
The poll also asked respondents which of the state's two U.S. senators was doing a better job in Washington, D.C.
One in four respondents chose Paul, compared to 15 percent who picked Mitch McConnell, who won re-election last year by almost 16 percentage points over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Sixteen percent of respondents said both senators are doing a good job, and 37 percent responded "neither." Seven percent said they were not sure.
"Rand Paul's identity has never really stabilized," Voss said. "Sometimes he's seen as far right, compared to McConnell's more mainstream conservatism, but at other times he's viewed as a maverick who stands out because he's willing to stray from the Republican Party's typical ideology."