Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has a slim advantage in the race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to one of the first nonpartisan polls of the Kentucky Senate race.
The poll -- conducted by SurveyUSA for Kentucky media outlets, including the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Courier-Journal and stations WHAS and WKYT -- found the Kentucky secretary of state taking 46 percent to the veteran Republican senator's 42 percent among registered Kentucky voters.
But nine months out from Election Day, University of Kentucky professor Stephen Voss warned against reading too much into those numbers.
"The voters are evenly divided right now, and so many of them are still making up their minds that the contest could swing in any direction," Voss told the Herald-Leader.
Grimes leads McConnell among women and voters under 35, according to the poll. She also has a 20-point lead among self-described moderates, who made up 42 percent of those polled.
Despite her high office in state government, Grimes is still an unknown quantity to many Kentucky voters, and opinions of her are split: 26 percent view her favorably, 27 percent unfavorably, and 47 percent are neutral or have no opinion. McConnell, however, is widely disliked, with nearly twice as many voters viewing him unfavorably as favorably. His approval rating of 32 percent in Kentucky puts him below President Barack Obama, who clocked in at 34 percent.
The poll results "mirror what our campaign sees as we travel across the Commonwealth: Kentuckians are ready for a United States Senator who will finally put people above partisanship," Charly Norton, Grimes' spokeswoman, said in a statement. "In the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will be a champion for Kentucky's middle-class families."
McConnell's campaign, which has downplayed negative results on previous SurveyUSA polls, told the Courier-Journal that it is "very comfortable" about McConnell's position.
"The contrast between Mitch McConnell's conservative accomplishments for Kentucky and Alison Lundergan Grimes's alliance with President Obama's agenda of Obamacare and the war on coal will become very clear to everyone over the next nine months," McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said.
Previous polls on the race, nearly all of which were conducted by partisan firms or for partisan sponsors, showed results ranging from an 8-point lead for McConnell to a 6-point lead for Grimes. HuffPost Pollster's polling model, which incorporates all publicly available surveys, finds the two candidates running essentially even.
The SurveyUSA poll surveyed 1,082 Kentucky voters between Jan. 30 and Feb. 4, using automated calls to landline phones and online questionnaires to those not reachable on a home phone.
This article was updated with comments from both campaigns.
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