Heller Down Again, But Not Out

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Oct. 31, 2017 — You may remember that JMC Analytics and Polling released an August survey that found Republican Danny Tarkanian, before he entered the Senate race, to be leading Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, 39-31 percent. On Friday, JMC released new polling results.

Immediately after the August poll was published, the Heller campaign circulated a Tarrance Group survey of its own that showed a completely different tally. This study projected the Senator ahead 55-33 percent among their universe of likely Republican primary voters. Now, Heller’s political operatives may need to counter again.

The latest JMC survey (Oct. 24-26; 500 likely Nevada primary voters answering an automated questionnaire) finds Tarkanian again leading the senator, but this time the margin is 44-38 percent, a slightly closer tally and with many more voters forming a decided opinion.

There is some good news here for the first-term senator, however. In the August poll, his favorability ratio was a horrendous 34:48 percent positive to negative among Republicans. In this survey, Heller records a much improved 51:43 percent ratio. Though not in a strong position for an incumbent within his own primary, the senator has made great strides toward improving his image.

But, even the better Heller ratio pales in comparison to how President Trump and even Tarkanian are viewed. Among Republicans in the JMC sample group, the president scores an 85:13 percent favorable to unfavorable score. Tarkanian, who has lost five different political campaigns but is 4-1 in Republican primaries, records a 59:24 percent ratio, a net 27 points better than Sen. Heller (8 points more positive; 19 percentage points less negative). Therefore, despite Heller’s improved position within the Nevada GOP base, he is still far below where other Republicans stand.

The geographic segmentation is interesting, and it contains a particularly bad point for Sen. Heller, possibly signaling longstanding trouble. When looking at how the support base breaks in each of the state’s four congressional districts, Sen. Heller takes only one, District 1, by a 47-37 percent margin. Rep. Dina Titus’ (D-Las Vegas) 1st District encompasses the city’s downtown and Strip areas. It is heavily Democratic, but Sen. Heller does well among the smaller Republican contingent.

The most surprising point is the incumbent’s poor performance in the Reno/Carson City-based 2nd District, Nevada’s northern CD that Heller represented for most of three terms before he was appointed to the Senate in 2011. Tarkanian takes the 2nd District, 44-40 percent.

Heller also loses Districts 3 and 4, those represented by the likely consensus Democratic nominee, freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson), and fellow freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas). Last year in the 3rd, Tarkanian lost to Rosen by one point in the general election but easily out-paced then-state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson in the GOP primary. According to this most recent poll, the perennial candidate would top the senator, 46-34 percent. In the 4th, the Tarkanian margin is a similar 47-35 percent.

The Nevada primary is scheduled for next June and many campaign months obviously remain. Sen. Heller is rebounding from his previously disastrous standing, but faces a tall task to win the nomination even against a flawed candidate like Tarkanian. And, should the senator ultimately prevail for the party nomination, he would immediately begin a toss-up general election contest against Rosen.

Nevada continues to be one of the nation’s top political swing states, and it appears certain that the tight preference pattern routinely demonstrated here since 2004 will continue all through next year.

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