FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Candidates in Kentucky's combative U.S. Senate race are bringing in outside help with two weeks to go as Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes will campaign with Bill Clinton on Tuesday and a trio of Republican congressmen will stump for Sen. Mitch McConnell beginning Monday.
It will be the third visit for Clinton, who won the state twice as a presidential candidate and remains popular with Kentuckians. The former president is a top surrogate for Democrats this fall. But Clinton's latest visit to Kentucky comes after a new Gallup survey shows that, for the first time since 2008, more Kentuckians identify or lean toward Republicans than Democrats.
Kentucky Democrats still lead Republicans by more than 460,000 registered voters. But the Gallup survey, conducted from January to June, shows 45 percent of Kentuckians identify as Republicans while 39 percent identify as Democrats. In 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected president, Gallup said 52 percent of Kentuckians identified or leaned toward Democrats. That number has fallen every year. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
"The six-percentage-point edge favoring Republicans ... underscores the uphill battle Grimes faces in trying to unseat McConnell," Justin McCarthy wrote for Gallup. "Given typical Republican advantages in voter turnout, the Democratic deficit on partisanship among those Kentucky residents who actually turn out to vote may be even greater than six points."
Republican Party of Kentucky chairman Steve Robertson says the poll reflects the party's recent gains in voter registration. Since 2008, Republicans have added 165,131 voters while Democrats have added 20,424.
"Kentucky voters are obviously tired of the failed policies of the liberal Obama agenda that Democrats support and are ready to change the status quo," Robertson said.
Democratic Party chairman Dan Logsdon noted Democrats won six of seven statewide constitutional offices in 2011 and have an eight-seat majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
"Regardless of party ID, once Kentuckians know of Democrats' commitment to fighting for working families on issues like a higher minimum wage and equal pay for women, they vote Democratic," he said.
Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst called Clinton's visit not a Democratic event, but a "testament to what a strong, independent leader (Grimes) will be in the U.S. Senate." The campaign also launched a new TV ad Friday touting a state law Grimes worked to pass allowing domestic violence victims to vote without their address being made public.
"Alison Lundergan Grimes brought Democrats and Republicans together," Markas Brunson, the son of a domestic violence victim, says in the ad.
McConnell has built his campaign around trying to define Grimes as an Obama Democrat. He has criticized Grimes for refusing to say whether she voted for Obama in 2012, despite the fact that Grimes was a delegate for Obama at the Democratic National Convention.
Monday, McConnell will hammer that theme again as he begins a three-day bus tour through eastern Kentucky's coal country with Republican U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers, Andy Barr and Thomas Massie. McConnell will undoubtedly link Grimes to Obama's energy policies putting restrictions on coal-fired power plants, which generate about 90 percent of Kentucky's electricity.
Grimes says she disagrees with Obama on coal and has called for a balanced approach to climate change that protects Kentucky's coal jobs while preserving the environment. But McConnell's campaign notes she continues to campaign with the Clintons, who have said they support Obama and his energy policies.
Associated Press reporter Ken Thomas contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.