Kentucky's Electing A Governor Today, And The Democrat Could Win (Again)

Polls show a small lead for Democrat Jack Conway, but an independent candidate could be a factor.

Kentucky residents head to the polls Tuesday to vote for governor. And in a state where the congressional delegation is dominated by Republicans and more than 60 percent of voters supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, the Democratic candidate could win.

Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway has led Republican venture capitalist Matt Bevin by 2 to 5 points in almost every poll since September, including a mid-October poll released by Bevin's own campaign. HuffPost Pollster's model, which includes all publicly available polling, gives Conway 43 percent to Bevin's 41 percent.

Bevin claims his internal polling now gives him a slim lead, while Conway told The Courier-Journal that his polling has him leading by more than 5 points. The most recent publicly released poll, conducted by Republican firm Vox Populi, shows the candidates tied at 44 percent.

Not only is Conway ahead in the polls, he's also ahead in the money game. Conway has outspent Bevin 4 to 1, spending $2.4 million to Bevin's mere $600,000 as of the end of October.

Conway has been elected to state attorney general twice, and was nominated to run against Republican Rand Paul for U.S. Senate in 2010. Bevin hasn’t held elected office, but gained notoriety in 2014 when he ran against current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis, founder of the link aggregation website FARK, averages about 7 percent support, according to the HuffPost Pollster model. Curtis was a registered Democrat until last year, but has positioned himself as a moderate candidate without strong leanings to either side. It’s unclear if his presence in the race will pull a substantial amount of votes from either major-party candidate.

Despite Kentucky’s reputation as a conservative Republican state, moderate Democrats still perform well electorally at the state level. The current governor, Democrat Steve Beshear, is leaving office because he has served two terms -- the maximum allowed under Kentucky term limits. The state has only elected two Republican governors in the past 50 years.

That’s not to say Bevin couldn’t pull off a victory Tuesday. Conway’s polling lead is small, and polling in the race has been somewhat sparse -- there have only been six public polls released in the last two months, and the most recent polls are a week old. That means any late movement in voter preferences has gone unmeasured.

Turnout also matters -- polls have different methods of identifying likely voters, and Tuesday's turnout could be different from what the polls expected. And with a close race, just how much of the vote Curtis pulls away from the two major candidates could be a determining factor in who wins the election.

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