Posted Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, at 2:16 PM
This latest edition of the Public Policy Polling Headline Takeover has a beautiful lede.
Mitch McConnell is the most unpopular Senator in the country. Only 37% of Kentucky voters approve of him to 55% disapprove. Both in terms of raw disapproval (55%) and net approval (-18) McConnell has the worst numbers of any of his peers, taking that mantle from Nebraska's Ben Nelson.
And yet, and yet -- the trial heats reveal that McConnell would lead any Democrat outside the margin of error. For some reason, people seem to be amused by Ashley Judd's Senate speculation, even though no one can remember a Judd joint since Along Came a Spider. She's four points behind him, as is Jack Conway, the state attorney general who lost to Rand Paul in 2010.
It's extremely difficult to imagine a challenge that would make McConnell feel like he needed to scale back. He's been elected five times, and only once did his margin move into double digits -- 2002, a good Republican year. Never has he faced the general election by moderating his votes in the Senate. And never has Kentucky been as Republican as it is now. In 2012, Mitt Romney won 60.5 percent of the vote in Kentucky. It was the highest vote share for a Republican presidential candidate in 40 years, since Nixon beat McGovern. That was sort of a fluke election, anyway, because Democrats held onto five of the state's seven House seats, resisting any Nixon wave. Romney's win helped defeat Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat whose grandfather had been a popular governor.
This is a fun poll. It can be another data point in the whole "Americans get irritated at how Congress fails to achieve anything" story. It can attract some money to a McConnell challenge. It doesn't put Democrats in the right position to actually beat McConnell, though, and he won't be spooked.