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Kentucky: Dueling Polls in 6th District

Two polls give Rep. Ben Chandler (right) the lead in Kentucky's 6th district race, but one shows Chandler in a better position than the other does. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Two polls give Rep. Ben Chandler (right) the lead in Kentucky's 6th district race, but one shows Chandler in a better position than the other does. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:00 p.m. | Just how competitive is the race in Kentucky’s 6th district, where four-term Rep. Ben Chandler (D) faces a rematch with attorney Andy Barr (R)? That depends on which poll you believe.

Chandler’s campaign released a poll Monday showing him with a 24-point lead in a head-to-head matchup with Chandler, 54 percent to 30 percent.

But a poll from Barr’s pollsters had the Republican trailing Chandler by only 7 points, 49 percent to 42 percent.

What might account for the difference? Chandler’s pollsters, Mark Mellman’s the Mellman Group, surveyed 400 voters representing the “likely 2012 electorate” in late March, while Public Opinion Strategies, Barr’s pollsters, surveyed 400 “likely 2012 voters” in late February.

In the Democratic poll, Obama won a horse-race matchup against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the district, 47 percent to 42 percent with 11 percent undecided.

In the Republican poll, Obama’s job approval was 39 percent and his disapproval was 59 percent, with 45 percent strongly disapproving of his job performance.

Robert Blizzard, a vice president at Public Opinion Strategies who conducted the poll for Barr, questioned the results of Mellman’s poll.

“How is it possible that President Obama — who only received 45% in this very district in 2008, in the best Democratic year in a generation — is doing BETTER now?” he asked in an email to Roll Call. “That just doesn’t make sense, especially given that Kentucky voters strongly disapprove of the job the President is doing and the state has one of the highest disapproval ratings of Obama of any nationally.”

“When a pollster shows numbers that defy conventional wisdom, in this case that Obama is beating Mitt Romney in a Kentucky congressional district, it should make you question the findings of the entire survey,” Blizzard wrote.

In an interview, Mellman pushed back. “I don’t want to get into the tit-for-tat because it’s unseemly,” Mellman said. He noted his firm’s success of getting numbers right, even when other pollsters had different figures — in particular Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2010 re-election race.

“I think we’re right and they’re wrong,” he said with a chuckle.

Roll Call rates the race as Leans Democratic. Influential Republicans in the state continue to believe that Barr’s best chance at defeating Chandler was 2010 and that he doesn’t have what it takes to win this cycle.

Both polls had a margin of error of 4.9 points.

Read the dueling memos here:

[scribd id=91978902 key=key-de41edlw5wy018815do mode=list]

[scribd id=91978930 key=key-15vy18f2xy5avs31kqs mode=list]

Clarification: An earlier version of this post did not clearly state that 45 percent of those polled in the GOP survey strongly disapproved of the president’s job performance. Obama’s total job disapproval number in the district, according to the POS poll, is 59 percent.

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