By Jim Ellis
Oct. 17, 2018 — A new Emerson College poll (Oct. 10-12; 625 likely Nevada voters) projects Sen. Dean Heller (R) to a 48-41 percent lead over freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson), which is the largest lead for either candidate since the June 12th primary.
For most of the election cycle, this race has been rated as a toss-up campaign, but most prognosticators believed it would eventually tilt toward the Democrats yielding a challenger victory.
Viewed as a state trending Democratic because of Hillary Clinton’s 48-45 percent victory in the most recent presidential campaign added to President Obama winning here in both of his elections: 52-46 percent over Mitt Romney, and in a 55-43 percent landslide over John McCain, the 2014 Republican sweep from the governor’s race through the state legislative campaigns has generally been disregarded as an anomaly.
Outgoing Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has strong approval ratings and would clearly be a re-election favorite if the state did not have a term limit law. The governor is playing an interesting role in this year’s campaign. He is featured prominently in Sen. Heller’s advertising but refuses to endorse Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) as his successor because the latter man refuses to support the Sandoval tax program, which is becoming the governor’s legacy as Nevada’s chief executive.
Therefore, without a united minority Republican Party for the governor’s campaign it seemed that things would swing toward Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D).
Yet, this latest Emerson College poll seems to be defying that analysis, too. According to the Emerson data, Laxalt has a lead in similar proportion to that of Sen. Heller, 46-41 percent, over Sisolak.
It would be easy to relegate this Emerson poll to outlier status, but this is not the only October data that finds both Sen. Heller and Attorney General Laxalt leading their respective campaigns, none of which come from internal campaign data.
NBC News/Marist College (Sept. 30-Oct. 3; 574 likely Nevada voters) found Sen. Heller leading 44-42 percent and Laxalt ahead 44-40 percent. The Siena College/New York Times poll (Oct. 8-10; 542 likely Nevada voters) produced similar results: Heller up 47-45 percent, with Laxalt holding a bare 46-45 percent edge.
Even in September, one poll, from Ipsos Reuters (Sept. 7-17; 1,039 likely Nevada voters with online participation) found Heller leading 46-43 percent and Laxalt topping Sisolak, 43-40 percent. But three other September public polls found both Rep. Rosen and Commissioner Sisolak holding a clear advantage but within the polling margin of error.
Between the primary and October, six public polls were conducted in the state. Rep. Rosen led in four, but not beyond the error margin in any. Seven surveys tested the governor’s race, and Sisolak led in only three, with just one beyond the margin of error.
Looking at the data, it does appear a new October trend is favoring the Republicans to a slight degree. There appears to be no discernible reason for the latest swing, especially when looking at the ads each campaign is airing that appear to echo typical Republican and Democratic themes and attacks.
The only deviation comes with Rosen attacking Heller as being the deciding vote to repeal the national healthcare law, and Heller hitting Rosen over her announcing for the Senate just six months into her first congressional term with no definitive accomplishments associated with her service.
Without a particular reason for the swing, it appears possible, if not probable, that the electorate could again swing back toward the Democrats before Election Day.
Since the Nevada Senate race is one of the most important in the country, it merits much attention in the final three weeks. With Tennessee now on the precipice of being out of reach for Democrats, the Nevada race becomes a must-win for them if they are to have any chance at winning a majority. The data, however, suggests the Dems will need a Silver State momentum change in order to post Nevada in their victory column.