A PEEK AT THE NRSC PRIORITIES…. In one of the handful of Senate pick-up opportunities for Democrats, Kentucky continues to look like a tough haul. The party got the match-up it wanted — an accomplished and successful state Attorney General (Jack Conway) against an extremist ophthalmologist who doesn’t know much about Kentucky (Rand Paul) — but polls show the Dem trailing.

Nevertheless, the race remains competitive — so much so that the National Republican Senatorial Committee chose Kentucky for its first ad buy of the election cycle.

Here’s some evidence that, despite some of the public polling, this one is still a race: The National Republican Senatorial Committee has put up its first television ad of the cycle … in Kentucky.

It’s also a bit of an olive branch from the national party to Rand Paul.

The ad ties Jack Conway to national Democrats, and attacks him for failing to sue to block the health care overhaul as Attorney General.

As a factual matter, the attack ad is ridiculous. But that’s not exactly shocking — Republican attack ads are nearly always deceptive.

There are two other angles to this I find interesting. The first is that it attacks Conway for a Democratic health care plan that, the NRSC says, cuts Medicare. But the last time I checked, Conway is running against a Republican opponent who doesn’t think Medicare should exist. If the race comes down to which candidate values Medicare more, I suspect the Democrats would be thrilled.

The second is the strategy behind the ad itself. The NRSC could have chosen any Senate race in the country to devote resources, but the first contest they chose was Kentucky’s race — an election in a deep “red” Southern state that Republicans didn’t expect to be competitive at all.

The funny thing about campaign committees is that they really can’t bluff very well. The parties have limited resources and a lot of races, so when a committee invests in a contest, it’s clear evidence that the party is concerned about the outcome.

There aren’t many GOP-held Senate seats that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is worried about this year. This is obviously one of them.

Update: Right on cue, the Conway campaign points to an internal poll showing Paul up by only two points.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.