Back from the brink! McConnell ‘clear favorite’ in Kentucky

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A top nonpartisan political handicapper said Thursday that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is well-positioned to defeat challenges on his left and his right on his way to winning re-election.

In the latest edition of the Crystal Ball, the political gurus at the University of Virginia ‘s Center for Politics say that it is “hard to see” Mr. McConnell losing the May 2014 primary against Louisville businessman Matt Bevin and say the veteran Republican lawmaker should go on to win a sixth term in the fall election against Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

“We still think McConnell is a clear favorite to win, even if it’s only by a percentage point or two,” write the Center’s Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik. “Despite the troublesome recent news for the minority leader, he is still in decent shape in our eyes.”

Mr. Sabato and Mr. Kondik challenge the notion that Mr. McConnell is already running ads against Mr. Bevin, who has the support of local tea party groups,  because he is worried about the primary challenge.

McConnell is, if anything, an aggressive campaigner, and he has a massive war chest: His most recent fundraising report showed him with $9.6 million cash on hand,” they write. “Additionally, in a world of superPACs, McConnell effectively will have an almost unlimited amount of money behind him, whether directly through his own spending or indirectly through third parties. So if McConnell has essentially bottomless coffers, then why not attack Bevin early and often? Wouldn’t it be political malpractice not to?”

They also point out that Mr. McConnell benefits from having Sen. Rand Paul in his corner, as well as Mr. Paul’s former campaign manager, Jesse Benton.

Turning to the general election, they say it is not a surprise that the Kentucky race is close, but question a couple of recent Democratic polls that show Mrs. Grimes leading Mr. McConnell.

“The trouble with the Democratic polls is that neither of them provides information about the composition of the race’s undecided voters,” they write. “Given Kentucky’s Republican tilt at the federal level, it’s probably safe to assume that the undecideds are ideologically more conservative than liberal. Are these voters — who live in a state where Mitt Romney just won more than 60% of the vote — really going to break for a Democratic challenger when their choice could help Barack Obama’s Democrats hold onto the Senate? It’s possible, but it’s not very likely.”

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