Barack Obama's approval rating in Kentucky is only 35%. Support for his health care plan is just 28%. 56% of voters in the state think that Congressional Democrats are too liberal and only 26% have a favorable opinion of them.
Measured against that brutal political context it is perhaps no surprise that Trey Grayson and Rand Paul lead Jack Conway and Dan Mongiardo by margins ranging from 6 to 9 points in the race to replace Jim Bunning in the US Senate.
Grayson does slightly better than Paul in the general election match ups, leading Conway 40-33 and Mongiardo 44-35. Paul leads both by identical 42-36 margins. Democrats are rooting for Paul to win the Republican nomination because they think he'll be easier to pick off in the general election but at least for now there's not a large difference in the viability of the two Republicans.
PPP matched Grayson against Conway and Mongiardo back in April and the difference between how the numbers stacked up then and how they stack up now says a lot about how much the political context has changed nationally over the last half of 2009. Grayson's margin has improved by 10 points against Conway, who he trailed 37-33 in the spring, and by 5 points against Mongiardo, who he led 40-36 on the earlier poll.
The Republican candidates are benefiting from overwhelming support by independents, holding leads ranging from 25-34 points with that group in each of the possible match ups. As is usually the case in Kentucky where a lot of registered Democrats don't actually vote Democratic, particularly at the federal level, the GOP is also a lot more unified than the Democrats. Grayson and Paul win between 69-75% of the Republican vote while Mongiardo and Conway are polling at just 54-61% of the Democratic vote.
It would certainly be premature to write off this seat for the Democrats though. There are a lot of undecideds and it seems unlikely the national political climate could go anywhere but up for the party at this point- they may have hit rock bottom this month as the health care bill moves closer to passage.
Beyond that it's important to note that with the exception of Dan Mongiardo none of the candidates on either side has greater than 50% name recognition right now. 64% have no opinion about Grayson, 63% say the same of Conway, and the numbers are 51% for Rand Paul and 38% for Dan Mongiardo. The dynamics of the race could change a lot as the eventual nominees become better known and voters in the state react favorably to them or not.
For now though in a Republican state in what's shaping up to be a Republican year the Republicans are favored to hold this seat.
Full results here