Here’s how the last couple weeks in the Kentucky Senate race were supposed to work for Democratic nominee Jack Conway: after pounding Republican nominee Rand Paul for his hybrid libertarian (read: strange) positions on Medicare, taxes and law enforcement, an ad focusing on Paul’s alleged college shenanigans would seal the deal for Kentucky voters. Paul would be cast as an extremist outsider, too dangerous to risk a Senate seat on.
Cue the Fail Whale.
A new poll from PPP (D) suggests that Conway’s strategy hasn’t pleased voters. After weeks of putting Paul on the defensive, Conway now finds himself trailing Paul by 13 points.
Paul leads 53-40 in the poll of 900 likely voters, which was conducted by automated phone call Oct. 21-24. The last PPP poll, from mid-September, showed Paul leading 49-42. The Republican has nearly doubled his lead since, according to PPP.
Further, the poll found that most voters are aware of Conway’s infamous “Aqua Buddha” ad (62% of those surveyed said they knew of it) and more than half — 56% — said it was “inappropriate.” Just 15% said it was “appropriate.”
The ad features a story about an alleged hazing incident Paul participated in while an undergraduate at Baylor. According to an unnamed woman who says she was a student when Paul attended the school, Paul and a friend tied her up, put her in a creek and asked her to pray to “Aqua Buddha.” The incident was part of Paul’s membership in a student group called the NoZe brotherhood that was banned from the Baptist-backed Baylor campus for “mocking Christianity.”
Conway said the ad was intended to show Paul’s history of questionable decision making, a view he attempted to tie to his attacks on Paul’s history as a political pundit and candidate. Paul said the ad was an attack on his faith — Paul is a Christian — and said that Kentucky voters would be turned off by the spot.
The PPP poll suggests Paul’s read was the right one. The new numbers show that in the month or so since PPP’s last poll of the Kentucky Senate race, as Conway has ramped up his attacks, Paul has pulled away to a double-digit lead.
A second poll of the race by Fox News (using Rasmussen’s automated polling methods) out today seems to confirm PPP’s numbers. Paul leads the race 50-43 in the poll, and internals show that voters have a more favorable opinion of Paul. Voters remain split about Paul’s views, however, with 42% saying he’s too extreme and 44% saying he’s not.
Other recent polling has shown Conway running much closer to Paul — the TPM Poll Average shows Paul leading 48.7-42.6. Most public polls conducted in the month of October have shown Paul leading by around five points. But as one of the first public polls to track public opinion of the spot and how it might affect behavior in the voting booth, the PPP poll suggests a tough road ahead for Conway and his supporters.