Chuck Todd Digs into Kentucky Politics

by John Gregory | 08/05/14 8:49 AM

NBC News political analyst-and avowed political junkie-Chuck Todd smiles when he says Kentucky is the place to be over the next few years. Coming up are what’s likely to be a $100 million race for U.S. Senate this fall, one of only two open gubernatorial contests in 2015, and a leading Republican contender for president in 2016.

Todd discussed each of these contests with KET's Bill Goodman on this weekend's One to One.

U.S. Senate Campaign
The battle between Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, is one of the most closely watched races in the nation this year. Todd says record-low approval ratings for Congress make it harder for McConnell to play up his role as incumbent and his position of seniority in the Senate.

"What can Mitch McConnell claim that he has delivered in the last six years and...what did you use your political power to do?" Todd wonders. "I think it's a trickier thing for him to deal with this time than it has been previous times."

With the incumbent McConnell likely to capture a majority of votes in the coal-producing regions of the state, Todd outlines areas where he think Grimes must do well to remain competitive.

Another key demographic in the race, according to Todd, is women between 40 and 55 years old. In the latest Bluegrass Poll, Grimes had only a 1-point lead among female voters, which is down from a double-digit lead she held in February. Todd questions how effective arguments for electing a woman senator or protecting reproductive rights can be among the state's female voters.

Kentucky's Other Senator
Todd calls Rand Paul the closest thing the GOP has to a front-runner for the 2016 presidential campaign. He says Paul is a very good politician who polls well, engages effectively with the media, and has benefited from the increasing profile of other potential Tea Party challengers. For example, Todd says the rise of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been the best thing to happen to Paul because Cruz makes Paul look like a moderate.

Can Paul sustain his momentum through the rest of this year and next? Todd says Paul has yet to experience a political setback, much less a multimillion dollar barrage of negative TV ads from the more hawkish wing of the GOP.

"Rand Paul has never had to overcome anything, so he may think everything is overcome-able and he may not take a challenge as seriously as he needs to," Todd explains. "If he survives the onslaught, it may be hard to stop him from the nomination."

2015 Gubernatorial Race
Only three states will elect governors next year, and Kentucky and Louisiana don't have incumbents running for re-election. On the right, Todd wonders why Republicans in the commonwealth haven’t been able to “crack the gubernatorial code,” while on the left, he says state Attorney General Jack Conway could be among the Democratic Party's up-and-coming centrists.

Watch the full One to One interview to hear more on these topics, and to learn about Todd's family connections to Kentucky and the two people he most enjoys interviewing off-camera.