POLITICS
07/06/2010 02:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rand Paul In Dead Heat With Democratic Challenger Jack Conway (POLL)

The election for Kentucky's open U.S. Senate seat is a dead heat with Tea Party favorite Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway both clocking in at 43 percent, according to a just-released public opinion poll.

The numbers are a reflection of a tough couple of weeks for Paul, whose general election roll out was roiled by his refusal to say whether he would have supported the Civil Rights Act had he been in office at the time of its passage.

Still, the findings from Public Policy Polling are remarkable. Kentucky is a decidedly conservative state and a Republican stronghold. For Paul to be stuck at 43 percent is an illustration, in part, of how unenthusiastic some of the GOP is with his candidacy.

Perhaps the more telling numbers, however, are the favorability ratings of each candidate. Paul has gone from a +3 percent spread in December (when 26 percent viewed him positively, 23 percent negatively) to a -8 percent spread now (34 percent view him positively, 42 percent negatively). State Attorney General Conway, by contrast, has room to grow. Still relatively unknown within the state, he has a 31 percent favorability rating and a 29 percent unfavorable rating.

The PPP numbers are not echoed by any other public findings in Kentucky, in part because the only firm really polling the state is Rasmussen. But Democratic sources say they are similar to the internal findings of the Conway campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -- both of which are increasingly optimistic about their chances in the fall. PPP's authors, in fact, chart a rather straightforward, if not bold, path for Conway to secure victory:

Paul is winning 72% of the Republican vote to Conway's 65% of the Democratic vote. Kentucky may have the most conservative Democratic voters in the country. If Conway can get more than 80% of the vote from within his own party he'll more than likely win this race, but that may be a tall order when only 58% even of Democrats approve of the President's job performance.