After the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced Wednesday that it will return to Kentucky's airwaves on behalf of Alison Lundergan Grimes, Mitch McConnell's campaign released an internal polling memo showing the Republican leading by eight points.
According to Jan van Lohuizen, McConnell's longtime pollster, the Senate minority leader has a 49 percent to 41 percent lead on Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state. Libertarian candidate David Patterson got 3 percent.
McConnell's campaign staff released the internal numbers not long after Politico reported that the DSCC, which said last week that it had no plans to spend more money on TV advertising in Kentucky, is reserving $650,000 of air time in the state to bolster Grimes.
With just 13 days left in the bruising contest, both sides were ratcheting up their gamesmanship as the candidates fanned out across the state on bus tours in an effort to rally their supporters and make sure they turn out to vote.
The DSCC's move comes after a Bluegrass Poll released Monday showed Kentucky's Senate race in a statistical dead heat, with McConnell holding a 44 percent to 43 percent advantage over Grimes among likely voters. The election forecasting model of FiveThirtyEight.com gives McConnell a 3.5-point advantage.
Politico cited an unnamed official at the DSCC who said the decision to spend more money in Kentucky came "after reviewing recent internal and public polling."
The Grimes campaign has twice released its internal polling numbers in recent weeks as most public polling showed McConnell with a small but steady lead, but Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst said in a statement Wednesday that McConnell's decision to release internal polling numbers shows that he is "terrified."
"We knew the McConnell camp was scared, but the timing of this release — with public polls showing the wind at our back and undecideds breaking our way, huge grassroots momentum across the entire commonwealth, and an enormous amount of energy following statewide events with both Clintons — couldn't be more transparent."
The Grimes campaign also questioned the accuracy of McConnell's pollster, noting that the same firm showed Trey Grayson tied with Rand Paul two weeks before Kentucky's 2010 GOP primary. Paul won by 23 points.
McConnell's latest internal poll surveyed 815 likely voters on Oct. 16 and Oct. 19-21, according to van Lohuizen. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Respondents were selected from a list of registered voters who had voted in at least one of the last four elections or had registered to vote since 2012.
McConnell senior adviser Josh Holmes said in a statement that the DSCC's decision to invest more money in Kentucky was a waste that could cost other Democratic candidates.
"At this point Barack Obama's allies are so consumed with hate for Mitch McConnell and would rather set their money on fire in Kentucky than protect their embattled incumbents around the country," Holmes said. "I think we'll look back at this and say it marked the day when Mitch McConnell began leading a new majority in the Senate."
The exchanges over who is leading and by how much provided background noise as the campaigning continued and a new slate of ads from the campaigns and outside groups hit the air.
In the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's latest ad for McConnell, which the group shared first with the Herald-Leader, country music singer Randy Owen sings a couple of lines from the music group Alabama's Mountain Music and talks up McConnell.
"You're very fortunate to have a very special person representing you in the U.S. Senate," Owen says in the ad. "Mitch McConnell knows when to take a stand against this administration. Mitch McConnell is great for Kentucky and great for America."
After two days of touring Eastern Kentucky with Jimmy Rose, a former contestant on America's Got Talent, the McConnell campaign said it would keep the country music theme going by touring the state with Lee Greenwood next week.
McConnell drew crowds of about 100 people at stops on the campaign trail Wednesday, and those interviewed by the Herald-Leader were from the counties where the stops took place.
The question of where McConnell's supporters were coming from popped up after The Hill reported this week that the campaign was encouraging supporters to travel to rallies by promising to reimburse the costs of food and lodging.
The Herald-Leader asked McConnell after an event in Grayson Wednesday morning if the report, combined with the thousands of supporters who joined Grimes and former President Bill Clinton at rallies in Western Kentucky on Tuesday, had given him reason to worry about an enthusiasm gap.
"We've got a lot of enthusiastic supporters," McConnell said. "You've seen them at every stop, and I'm happy to have them."
Meanwhile, Grimes came under fire again Wednesday from conservatives for her role with Hugh Jass Burgers, a Lexington restaurant owned by her father. CNN reported this week that the restaurant pays its employees minimum wage despite Grimes repeatedly assailing the sum as falling short of a "living wage."
According to The Hill, Grimes was asked about the discrepancy at a young professionals event in Louisville Wednesday morning by a man who gave his name as Tyler. He asked if Grimes would talk to her family and "practice what you preach" on minimum wage.
"There's been a lot of accusations thrown around. The one that you just posed, Tyler, (is) inaccurate," Grimes said, according to The Hill. "I'm not part of the family business. I took on, before I was in public service, clients that (couldn't) advocate for themselves. That's the oath you take as an attorney."
The Washington, D.C., paper noted that documents show that Grimes provided legal work for the business, owned by Jerry Lundergan, in 2010 and 2011.