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Boosted in part by Democratic defectors, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a two point lead over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in the latest Bluegrass Poll.

Kentucky Conservative Democrats

McConnell’s edge is within the survey’s margin of error. So the race is a tossup, according to the poll.

McConnell has always fared well with conservative Democrats who regularly vote Republican in national elections.

Twenty percent of Democrats surveyed in the Bluegrass Poll said they’re for McConnell. Another six percent are undecided.

On the other hand, only 13 percent of Republicans said they are backing Grimes. Five percent are unsure whom they’ll vote for on Nov. 4.

Anyway, some liberal Democrat came up with the acronym “DINO” for conservative Democrats like the ones who are for McConnell. It stands for “Democrats in Name Only.”

The handle fits more than a few Kentuckians who are registered Democrats. But “DILEOs” – Democrats in Local Elections Only – is closer to the mark.

In the Bluegrass State, many conservative Democrats still vote Democratic in local elections. Of course, the candidates usually are conservative Democrats, too.

DINO/DILEOs are most common in the Southern Bible Belt, which loops around border state Kentucky. On social issues such as abortion, gun control and gay rights, DINO/DILEOs are almost indistinguishable from Republicans.

DINO/DILEOs also share the GOP’s disdain for the federal government, except, of course, for the military.

“DINO” evidently was inspired by “RINO” -- Republican in Name Only. “RINO” is what Republicans of the reactionary, tea party persuasion call GOP politicians they consider insufficiently conservative.

Some fans of Matt Bevin, McConnell’s tea party-tilting challenger in the May GOP primary, slammed the senator as a RINO and even a “liberal.”

Never mind that McConnell has – and brags about it – one of the most conservative voting records in the senate. Forget that he has few peers in demonizing the Democrats and President Barack Obama.

“Real Democrats will say, ‘I’m a Democrat.’ If a person says, ‘I’m a registered Democrat,’ chances are he or she votes Republican.”

In any event, the late Kentucky state Rep. Dick Castleman, a Democrat, claimed it was easy to tell genuine Democrats from DINO/DILEO types. “Real Democrats will say, ‘I’m a Democrat.’ If a person says, ‘I’m a registered Democrat,’ chances are he or she votes Republican.”

Likewise, a lot of independents lean toward the conservative and libertarian side. In the Bluegrass Poll, McConnell led Grimes among independents 50 to 33 with 17 percent undecided.

Red State Kentucky still has more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Yet both of Kentucky’s U.S. senators – Rand Paul is the other one – and five of the state’s six members of Congress are Republicans. The GOP is the majority party in the state senate.

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The last Democrat to carry Kentucky in a presidential election was Bill Clinton. Before Clinton, it was Jimmy Carter.

Gov. Steve Beshear is a Democrat, and the Democrats control the state house. But most Democrats in the legislature are conservative to one degree or another.

Liberal Democratic lawmakers are an endangered species. Mostly, they come from “Liberal Louisville” and from parts of Lexington.

allison lundergan gimes ahead

Allison Grimes

Almost everywhere else in Kentucky, nearly all Democratic office holders flee the “liberal label.” Often, they don’t even put “Democrat” on their campaign yard signs, bumper stickers, media ads and literature.

On the stump, most of them style themselves “conservative, common-sense Kentucky Democrats,” “family values Democrats” and the like. Washington is their punching bag, too.

“It is important that we stress that we are conservative Kentucky Democrats, not like those liberal Washington Democrats,” I heard a county Democratic bigwig warn the faithful.

The guy said he was for Grimes. But I’d bet the farm he didn’t vote for Obama.

Grimes is a flaming moderate by Kentucky standards. That puts her politics to the right of most Democrats in Washington.

Yet McConnell never misses a chance to tie Grimes to the president and to liberals everywhere.

“There’s nobody in the country that the left wants to beat more than the guy you’re looking at,” the Louisville Courier Journal, the state’s largest newspaper, recently quoted McConnell. “Every crazy liberal in America is sending my opponent multiple checks every week. They think I’m the president’s biggest problem. I’m proud of that.”

Obama won less than 38 percent of Kentucky’s vote in 2012 and carried only four of 120 counties. In 2008, the president collected a little over 41 percent of the vote and won 8 counties.

berry craig

Even so, there is still room for optimism, if guarded, in Team Switch HQ. Okay, I’m a union-card carrying Democrat with a Grimes-for-Senate sticker on my union-made Chevy. I voted for Obama both times, too.

So go ahead and say I’m whistling pass the graveyard, but I’m convinced that Grimes has a real shot at ditching Mitch, who is one of the most anti-union lawmakers in Washington, or anyplace else.

Again, despite the DINO/DILEO desertions, the Bluegrass Poll showed an essentially tied race. That – plus the fact that Grimes is raising more money than McConnell is -- suggests that her mission to “send Mitch McConnell home to Alabama,” as Grimes loves to quip about the senator and his native state, is not mission impossible for Kentucky’s first-term secretary of state.

Still, any Democrat running for the U.S. House, Senate or the presidency in the Bluegrass State has a tough slog. Kentucky is one of the most conservative states in the most conservative western industrial democracy.

Berry Craig

In every other Western country, the Republicans would be a reactionary fringe party, and the Democrats would be centrist or center-right. When Republicans like McConnell call Democrats “liberals” or “socialists,” it just shows how far right wing they are.

Berry Craig