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The marquee Kentucky gubernatorial race you should be watching today

There's a showdown in Kentucky today between gubernatorial candidates Jack Conway and Matt Bevin. Here's why it's a big deal.
Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin, left, looks on as Democratic candidate Jack Conway responds to a question during the League of Women Voters debate, Oct. 25, 2015, in Richmond, Ky. (Photo by Timothy D. Easley/AP)
Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin, left, looks on as Democratic candidate Jack Conway responds to a question during the League of Women Voters debate, Oct. 25, 2015, in Richmond, Ky.

Today’s Bluegrass State Showdown: Conway vs. Bevin … NBC/WSJ poll: Why Ben Carson isn’t just your new GOP front-runner; he’s a strong GOP frontrunner … Hillary gets stronger with Democrats. But that’s not the case with the electorate at large … Why Jeb Bush is in such trouble … Why Republicans are from Mars and Democrats from Venus — NBC/WSJ Poll Edition … One year out until Election Day 2016: Check out all of our political coverage.


*** Today’s Bluegrass State Showdown: We’re essentially one year out before Election Day 2016, and we have plenty of political stories and information to mark that milepost (just see below). But today is also Election Day 2015, and here is the marquee contest we’re following: Kentucky’s gubernatorial race between Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin. Back in the summer, we dubbed the race possibly the Last Obama War, because it largely hinges on this question: Whom do Kentucky voters dislike more — President Obama or the tea party? (Of course, we could also see this same dynamic play out in the Louisiana gubernatorial race on Nov. 21.) The Conway-Bevin race also has a lot at stake, too — the future of the state’s health-care exchange (Bevin says he will eliminate it), Rand Paul’s Senate seat in 2016 (if Democrats win, we bet you they’ll be emboldened to find a challenger to Paul), and Kim Davis and religious also have been issues in this race. So who’s going to win? “It’s still very close, but put a thumb on the scale for Conway,” The Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy told us. Final polling places in Kentucky close at 6:00 p.m. ET (in the eastern part of the state) and 7:00 p.m. ET (in the central time zone).

*** Why Ben Carson isn’t just your new GOP front-runner; he’s a strong GOP front-runner: That’s our takeaway from our new NBC/WSJ poll. Not only is Carson leading the Republican horse race with the highest percentage yet in our poll (29%), he also hits 50% when you combine GOP voters’ first and second choices — the only Republican presidential candidate to do that. Then take the fact that he’s raising the most money in the Republican race (his campaign reported raising $10 million in October alone, putting it on pace to raise $30 million for the quarter). And then add in that he gets the most social-media interaction when it comes to Facebook. Anyone who wants to dismiss Carson as Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann is making a big mistake. Sure, it’s more than possible that Carson doesn’t ultimately become the GOP nominee. But NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) makes a convincing case that the 2016 dynamic on the Republican side could have some similarities to 1964, when Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater. “What if the cake is baked?” Hart asks. “This is not a status-quo electorate.”

*** Hillary gets stronger with Democrats. But that’s not the case with the electorate at large: Meanwhile, in the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton has increased her lead over Bernie Sanders after he strong October (debate, Biden not running, Benghazi testimony): She’s ahead of him by 31 points (62%-31%) in our new NBC/WSJ poll — up from 25 points earlier in October (58%-33%). The percentage of Democrats saying they could see themselves supporting her increased as well, from 81% in mid-October, to 85% now. But her overall positive/negative number barely moved (39%-48% in mid-October, 40%-47% now). And her personal attributes didn’t really move, including those giving her high marks for being honest and straightforward (just 26% in mid-October, 27% now). “She has regained her commanding position with Democrats,” says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Fred Yang (D). “[Yet] despite arguably her best few weeks of the campaign starting with the Las Vegas debate, [she] shows little upward movement” with the rest of the electorate.

*** Why Jeb Bush is in such trouble: Our NBC/WSJ poll also shows why Jeb Bush’s campaign — which tried a reboot of sorts yesterday — is in such trouble. A majority of GOP primary voters (52%) say they couldn’t see themselves support Bush, versus 45% who can. Just compare those numbers to the rest of the Republican field (first percentage is could see themselves supporting, second is cannot see themselves supporting):

  • Ben Carson: 77%-18% (+59)
  • Marco Rubio: 59%-32% (+27)
  • Donald Trump: 60%-37% (+23)
  • Ted Cruz: 57%-34% (+23)
  • Carly Fiorina: 49%-37% (+12)
  • Jeb Bush: 45%-52% (-7)

*** Why Republicans are from Mars and Democrats from Venus — NBC/WSJ Poll Edition: Finally in looking at our poll, here are some of the KEY differences between Democrats and Republicans. One, 63% of Democratic primary voters want a president who seeks common ground, versus 64% of GOP primary voters who want a president who stands up for convictions. And on the issues, 12% of Democrats view health care as their No. 1 issue, versus just 3% of Republicans. And 14% of Republicans say foreign policy and the Middle East are their top concern, compared with 5% of Democrats.

*** One year out until Election Day 2016: To mark the one-year-out milepost until the 2016 general election, here are several of our stories on our website right now:

And we have a lot more to come later today…

*** On the trail: Hillary Clinton campaigns in Iowa… Donald Trump holds a press conference in NYC for his new book “Crippled America”… Ben Carson continues to sign books in Florida… Jeb Bush stumps in South Carolina and New Hampshire… John Kasich is in Iowa… And Martin O’Malley is in New Hampshire.

ONE YEAR OUT: In search of a political reset

One of us(!) writes about the big picture for 2016 with one year to go. "The electorate is facing the most tumultuous time in American politics in at least 50 years — arguably a century — and their ultimate choice for president is almost certain to be a candidate who reflects the churning and tumult of a changing United States."

The electorate right now is angry and dissatisfied, with just 27% saying the country is headed on the right track.

Ben Carson has surged into the lead on the GOP side, besting Trump 29% to 23%, another one of us(!) writes.

And Hillary Clinton is leading Bernie Sanders by a margin of two to one, our new NBC News/WSJ poll shows.

Msnbc's Alex Seitz-Wald breaks down how Democrats can keep the White House in 2016.

And Msnbc's Benjy Sarlin takes a look at exactly how Republicans can get back into the Oval Office.

Democrats are aiming to take control in the Senate. Here are six top races to watch.

Will 2016 be the Year of the Woman? NBC's Perry Bacon looks at the impact of a Clinton nomination.

A word of warning from Dante Chinni: The dynamics of the electorate can change fast, especially on economic measures.

OFF TO THE RACES: Voters are voting!

KENTUCKY: The Lexington Herald-Leader has you covered on the big governor's race in the Bluegrass State.

From The New York Times: "Analysts say much will depend on turnout. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Kentucky, but if Mr. Bevin — a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage — can drive enough Christian conservatives to the polls, it could help him eke out a victory."

OHIO: reports on the businesses behind Ohio's ballot initiative to legalize marijuana.

TEXAS: Houston voters will be weighing in on a nondiscrimination ordinance for gay and transgender people. "Proposition 1, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, would consolidate existing bans on discrimination based on race, sex, religion and other categories in employment, housing and public accommodations, extending protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals."

VIRGINIA: Virginia voters will settle which party controls the state Senate. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has all the details.

President Barack Obama poked fun at the GOP candidates for complaining about the CNBC debate last week. "Every one of these candidates says, 'Obama's weak, Putin's kicking sand in his face. When I talk to Putin, he's going to straighten out,'" he said. "And then it turns out, they can't handle a bunch of CNBC moderators."

The New York Times looks at how the GOP electorate is divided over whether or not the government is a protector or a threat.

A new Pew Research Survey finds that Americans with no religious affiliation now make up 28 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults.

CLINTON: She's out with a new ad in Iowa and New Hampshire focusing on gun control. "How many people have to die before we actually act?”

RUBIO: He plans to shift from a focus on fundraising to campaigning in key early states, POLITICO reports.

TRUMP: He said on ABC that Ben Carson doesn't have the "temperament" to be president.

He says he's willing to go it alone and negotiate with TV networks about the debate formats without coordinating with other campaigns or the RNC.

OBAMA AGENDA: Obama sits down with Lester Holt

Here is NBC’s Lester Holt’s interview with President Obama on criminal justice reform.

NBCNews' Carrie Dann contributed to this post.