Politics & Government

Who’s leading the Barr vs. McGrath race? Results from the first independent poll.

Rep. Andy Barr and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath
Rep. Andy Barr and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath

The first independent poll of the campaign between U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and retired Marine Amy McGrath shows what experts have been saying for months: it’s a very close race.

Barr, R-Lexington, led McGrath, D-Georgetown, by one point in a telephone survey conducted Sept. 6-8 by the New York Times Upshot and Siena College. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, which means the race is a statistical dead heat.

Of the 506 respondents to the poll, 47 percent favored Barr, 46 percent favored McGrath and 7 percent were undecided.

The poll is one of several being conducted by the New York Times in battleground races for control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018.

McGrath has been heavily outspent on television by Barr and Republicans through most of the summer. Barr has launched a new attack ad against McGrath every week since August 6 and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican Super PAC, has aired several attack ads of its own.

From July 1 to Sept. 10, McGrath and groups backing her were outspent $2,160,689 to $945,831 on television by Barr and Republican groups.

In his first negative ad, Barr included a clip of McGrath saying she’s a feminist, but 47 percent of the likely voters interviewed in the Times/Siena poll said they support electing more people who describe themselves as feminists, compared to 34 percent who wouldn’t.

Barr has shifted his message to focus more on defining McGrath as “too liberal” for the district, but the poll suggests that tactic may not be as effective as Republicans had hoped.

According to the survey, 51 percent of likely voters disapprove of President Donald Trump’s job performance and 46 percent of people said they’d like to see Democrats control the House of Representatives in 2018. That’s in a district that Trump won by 15 percentage points in 2016.

Mostly, the poll showed the difficulties of polling in 2018, particularly in a district with an urban and rural divide like Central Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. While 29,946 people were called on landlines and cellphones, the poll had only a 1.7 percent response rate.

The Times/Siena poll differed from poll results released last week by the Congressional Leadership Fund. In the Republican group’s survey, Barr led McGrath 49 percent to 45 percent. His numbers had improved significantly from June, when their poll found she was leading 51 percent to Barr’s 38 percent.

Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr contrasts himself with Democratic opponent Amy McGrath at the Republican Party of Kentucky's Lincoln Dinner in Lexington.