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Congressional shocker: Yarmuth and Lally in a dead heat

by Joe Arnold


Posted on September 2, 2010 at 4:00 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 3 at 7:10 AM

If the election was today in Kentucky's Third Congressional District, the WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll says it would be a photo finish.  Two term incumbent Democrat John Yarmuth is ahead by two points, but the relative unknown Republican Todd Lally appears to be riding an anti-incumbent, conservative wave.

Yarmuth (D)  47%
Lally (R)    45%
Undecided     5%

 Click here for the WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll

"This is an incredible election year," Lally said after he was shown the poll numbers, "and I think we're going to take John Yarmuth out this year."

"This race is just beginning," Yarmuth countered, "The community has no idea who Todd Lally is."

And Yarmuth says voters will learn that Lally is extreme.

For now, a race that conventional wisdom said belonged to Yarmuth, suddenly appears competitive.

On Tuesday, CNN added Yarmuth to their list of the nation's 100 most vulnerable Congressmen. Incumbents, especially Democrats are defending their votes since Barack Obama became President.

The American people are rejecting the Pelosi Yarmuth agenda, straight up," Lally said, "everyone is saying that  'I don't recognize my country anymore.'"

"The Republican party has the same ideas they've had for the last 30 years," Yarmuth said, "and they have resulted in the greatest disparity of wealth in the history of our country.  So we continue to work to build an economy that works for every single person."

While Yarmuth holds a ten point margin among voters older than 50,

Voters 50 and older
Yarmuth (D)  51%
Lally (R)         41%
Undecided     4%

Lally holds a nine point margin among voters younger than 50.

Voters aged 18-49
Yarmuth (D)  42%
Lally (R)         51%
Undecided      6%

For Republicans to have a shot at regaining control of the House, incumbents like Yarmuth would have to lose.

And this jolt of credibility to Lally's campaign could prompt the Republican National Campaign Committee to jump off the sidelines and invest in the campaign.

"We've been hard as a newcomer to politics to raise some of the money that we need," Lally acknowledged, "This will energize our base.  We will be able to make some very pointed calls and raise money very fast now."

"The Republicans have a lot less money to spend," Yarmuth continued, "and I don't think that on the basis of this one poll that they are all of a sudden going to elevate this to a high priority race.  I just can't see that happening."

The poll is a stunner locally, and it could be the canary in the coal mine for Democrats nationally.

Is Yarmuth paying a price for loyalty to the national Democratic agenda?  Two years after Barack Obama campaigned on "change", the political pendulum is smacking Yarmuth right where it hurts -- among voters.

"The pendulum is moving," said Democratic strategist Bob Gunnell, "Nationally, it looks like there is going to be historic losses for the Democratic party.  This is a big shock and surprise, maybe the shocker of all politcal stories of the week that the poll is this close with John Yarmuth."

"I think it's monstrous news, politically," agreed Republican consultant Ted Jackson, who was campaign chairman for former Republican Congresswoman Anne Northup, "I think that whatever the perceptions have been about this race, I think the perception to date has been that John has had a healthy lead,  that's gone."

"I think what you are looking at is a worst case scenario for Democrats in this poll," Yarmuth said, noting that pollster Survey USA surveyed a larger proportion of Republicans versus Democrats than in previous years, "and we've always known that the key to winning this race and the mayor's race and Jack Conway's (Senate) race is to make sure that our voters get out."

Yet, Lally notes that the district, which was represented by Northup for ten years before Yarmuth's victory in 2006, is a swing district.

"These are voters that have consistently demonstrated  that they will go Republican if they like the candidate and they like the agenda," countered Lally.

"(Yarmuth) separated himself from everybody in Louisville with that health care bill because 58% of us did not want it," Lally contended.

"(The voters are) very angry about health care," acknowledged Gunnell, "And they are very angry about 'Cap and Trade' because the president honestly didn't do a good job of explaining it. And, he's left his members out there basically to blow in the wind by themselves."

But Yarmuth is unapologetic about his votes.

"You can say that trying to deal with our health care crisis and make sure that health care is affordable and accessible for every American is a liberal agenda," Yarmuth said, "I think that is a very significant mainstream moderate agenda."

Yet, enough voters in Kentucky's Third Congressional District may see it another way. 

"(Lally) is absolutely in the game," Jackson said, "This race will go down to the wire."

To see more of Yarmuth's and Lally's reaction to the Bluegrass Poll go to the links to the right of story.