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Conway, Mongiardo Getting Nasty in Kentucky Race

While national political reporters have been focused almost entirely on Kentucky’s GOP Senate primary, Democrats in the Bluegrass State have an entertaining race of their own that raises some interesting questions about money, message, media and November.

The early frontrunner in the Democratic race, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, has been short on cash, and it is unclear whether Attorney General Jack Conway has caught him or still trails. Public polls generally show that the lieutenant governor remains ahead, though his once 20-point lead has been cut considerably.

An early April SurveyUSA poll showed Conway closing to within a few points of Mongiardo (35 percent to 32 percent), while a more recent Public Policy Polling (D) survey conducted after Mongiardo began his TV ads showed the lieutenant governor ahead by 9 points, 36 percent to 27 percent.

A new Lexington Herald-Leader poll shows Mongiardo leading by 7 points, 39 percent to 32 percent, while some private polling suggests that the lieutenant governor’s lead may even be a little bigger.

The sole poll showing Conway ahead comes from the attorney general’s own pollster, Peter Brodnitz. That survey, which seems less convincing in the light of other surveys, found Conway ahead of Mongiardo by 4 points.

Mongiardo, who lost a squeaker of a Senate race to Sen. Jim Bunning (R) six years ago, was elected lieutenant governor in 2007. Given those two statewide contests, he began his Senate bid with a considerable lead over Conway, who narrowly lost a Congressional race to Louisville-area Republican Anne Northup in 2002 but was elected state attorney general the same year Mongiardo won his statewide office.

Conway, who has been endorsed by the Louisville Courier-Journal, has the backing of most of the state political establishment and outraised Mongiardo $2.5 million to $1.7 million through the end of March.

Observers note that both Conway and Mongiardo have assets.

In addition to endorsements and financial resources, Conway “looks the part” of a Senator, according to one neutral Democrat. He is a strong campaigner and, according to observers, a more disciplined candidate.

But while Conway certainly should have appeal in metropolitan Louisville, Mongiardo looks like a better fit for much of the rest of the state. He is, one insider said, “more of a good ol’ boy candidate,” and his more populist style fits the election cycle better than Conway’s preppy look.

The attorney general went on television first and has aired a series of 30-second spots, including a number of ads that bash Mongiardo for everything from opposing health care reform to “using our tax dollars for his own real estate deal” to “pigging out” at the public trough.

A March 24 Conway press release charged that Mongiardo “doesn’t show up for work 70% of the time” and “violates [the] public trust,” while a May 4 Conway release refers to Mongiardo’s “crumbling integrity” and says that his “word is no good and he is not entitled to his own set of delusional facts.”

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