What’s going on in Kentucky?

Within the course of a week, polls in Kentucky showed the Senate race between Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway as a 15 point blowout for Paul (Rasmussen Reports and Survey USA) and as a dead heat (CNN/Time).

So what's really cooking down in the Bluegrass State?

Kentucky political insiders agree on one thing: the introduction of big, outside money has shaken things up.

American Crossroads, a conservative group, has been shellacking Conway with ads tying him to President Obama and his national health care program. Conway, meanwhile, has enlisted the support of Moveon.org and other liberal groups who are helping him pile up cash online. He's got his first ad up and hopes to keep the money flowing.

Al Cross, who spent 15 years as the top political writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal and now leads the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism, said the spending so far has been heavily in Paul's favor.

"They must be outspending (Conway) four to one," Cross said. "There's clearly been an impact."

Also, remember that the polls have different methodologies and different samples - they can all be accurate and still disagree. The Rasmussen and SurveyUSA polls focus on likely voters, while CNN was talking to registered voters. In years with a big enthusiasm gap like this one, a double-digit swing between registered and likely voters hardly seems out if the question.

A Kentucky Democratic strategist not affiliated with the Conway campaign (he backed Conway's primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo) tells Power Play that Democratic enthusiasm is, in fact, hitting a low ebb.

"I think there was some real excitement there at the beginning," he said. "But that's sort of faded away."

The strategist said that when Paul's remarks on the questionable constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Right Act came out in the wake of his surprise win over primary frontrunner Trey Grayson, Democrats were jazzed. But when early polls showed Paul still leading, it cooled their hopes.

Like Democrats, Republicans expected national Democrats to move the race up on their priority list and start sending money. One Kentucky Republican strategist, a veteran of statewide campaigns who's heavily plugged in to the national GOP, said he was expecting the worst.

"Many of us were expecting the day after the primary for the Democrats to just come in here and dump money all over Rand Paul for a month," he said. "We all thought that's what they'd do - just knock him out when he didn't have any money to fight back. This was what they wanted, right? Paul was supposed to make their job easier."

The Republican suggests the reason Conway has taken the risky step of hooking up with Moveon.org - not a popular group in pro-military, conservative Kentucky - is that without help from the DNC, he has little choice.

"The (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) is going to drop a quarter of all their money in California keeping Barbara Boxer propped up," he said. "They know Kentucky is a lost cause."

He points to private polls he's seen in congressional races that show President Obama with a 65 percent disapproval rating and Nancy Pelosi with 70 percent disapproval.

"The Republicans are just as fired up as they can be to vote against Barack Obama. They may not know Rand Paul all that well, but he's plenty good enough for that job," said the operative. "65 percent? 70 percent? That's a black hole (Conway) is not climbing out of."

The Democratic consultant doesn't think national Democrats view the state as lost - just not ready.

"Conway has to help himself first. (National Democrats) aren't going to take a chance. They've got fires to put out before they start taking risks on trying to pick up seats," he said. "If Conway is within five come mid-October, they'll show up."

Cross said he's puzzled by the absence of national Democrats (and their money) in Kentucky.

"My question is where in the hell are the Democrats - they're absent without leave," Cross said. "If you could pick up a seat right under Mitch McConnell's nose, wouldn't you do it?"

The fact that they aren't may be the best evidence yet of what the state of the race is right now. If the national party's polls were more promising, Conway would likely be getting more attention.