In his 2014 reelection campaign, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was facing a serious challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes, who was seen as a rising Democratic star. In recent years, Senate leaders had become major electoral targets because they were blamed for Washington dysfunction. The defeat of McConnell was at the top of the Democrats’ wish list, with tens of millions of dollars being spent by both sides to win this pivotal Senate seat. His favorability ratings and approval ratings were both underwater, with his re-elect score very low. With these significant headwinds and the Democrats landing a prime recruit, the race was seen as a toss-up by national election observers for more than a year in advance of the election.
In spite of these difficulties, FLA research highlighted a number of areas where Kentucky voters trusted McConnell more than Lundergan Grimes – notably protecting Kentucky from Obama’s policies & protecting Kentucky’s coal industry jobs. Furthermore, research identified messages that made voters less favorable toward Lundergan Grimes, especially a concern that she would be a rubber stamp for the highly unpopular President Obama in the Senate.
Although most public polling continued to show the race close with a narrow McConnell lead, FLA research indicated two weeks prior to the election that McConnell was opening up a substantial lead, with his message of standing up to Obama to protect Kentucky resonating. On Election Day, McConnell stunned political observers winning a 56%-41% victory, and he became Senate Majority Leader the following January.