By Jim Ellis
Oct. 28, 2014 — Nevada has proven itself as one of the most critical swing states in the 2016 election. When the presidential race was closer, carrying the 6-electoral vote Silver State was a staple towards constructing a potential Donald Trump winning coalition.
Being the only Democratic-held Senate seat where competition exists, Nevada also plays a preeminent role in determining which party will control the Senate in the next Congress. In the race to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D), we are now seeing recent polling numbers bouncing clear across the political spectrum.
For most of the year, the open Senate campaign has been relatively stable. Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) continually held a small lead over former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D), usually ranging in the 2-4 point sphere. From the period beginning July 7 and stretching to Oct. 4, 12 public Nevada Senate surveys were released. Rep. Heck led in 11 of them (the one outlier was a tie), and his average advantage was 3.2 percentage points.
That string was broken in mid-October when a local Las Vegas media poll (Las Vegas Channel 8 News; Oct. 10-13; 600 likely Nevada voters) broke their numbers extrapolating Masto to a five-point lead, 40-35 percent. An Oct. 10-15 CNN/ORC survey (698 likely Nevada voters) confirmed the results, finding the former two-term state attorney general extending her advantage to 52-45 percent, the largest margin attained for either candidate.
Just as quickly, CBS News/YouGov (Oct. 12-14; 996 likely Nevada voters), using a significantly larger response group, found a much different result. They saw the race as moving into a 39-39 percent tie with a large undecided factor.
Heck then rebounded according to the Monmouth University data (Oct. 14-17; 413 likely Nevada voters), albeit with a very small sample size for a statewide survey. In any event, Monmouth projected Heck back in front by the familiar three points, 45-42 percent.
Two more polls followed, subsequently conducted within the exact same time frame. Rasmussen Reports, surveying for KTNV Channel 13 in Las Vegas (Oct. 20-22; 826 likely Nevada voters) and the Las Vegas Review Journal (Oct. 20-23; 800 likely Nevada voters), arrived at almost identical results. Rasmussen found Masto up 43-41 percent, while the Review Journal’s numbers gave the Democrat a 45-44 percent edge.
Yesterday, the apple cart was again turned on its head. The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College survey, which several years ago was detected as having a liberal skew (but no such evidence exists this cycle), released its latest Nevada data (Oct. 20-24; 707 likely Nevada voters from 985 registered voters winnowed from a beginning universe of 1,122 Nevada adults).
Almost shockingly, the results produced Heck’s largest polling lead of the campaign, a seven-point spread at 49-42 percent. There is also an argument to suggest little skew exists in this poll because the NBC/WSJ/Marist result finds Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tied in the state, not an unreasonable conclusion based upon the 2016 Nevada polling history.
Both parties are committing millions to this race, as have the two candidates. Masto is on course to spend in the $14 million neighborhood, while Heck’s total will be closer to $11 million.
Since the polling provides no consistent trend, it portends that either major party candidate can still win this race. While it is difficult to identify the victor at this point, it remains well defined that the Senate majority will likely weigh upon how this particular campaign finishes.