By Jim EllisOct. 6, 2021 — The Nevada Independent online news site commissioned a September Mellman Group statewide poll (Sept. 15-22; 600 likely Nevada voters, live interview) just as former US Sen. Dean Heller (R) was announcing that he will join the Republican field vying to challenge Gov. Steve Sisolak (D). The results and analysis were released Monday.
The pollsters also tested the US Senate race between first-term Democratic incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and former Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R). Both the gubernatorial and the US Senate contest returned close general election projections.
Nevada has featured close elections in the previous decade leading up to the 2022 voting cycle. Of the 18 statewide electoral contests between and including 2012 and 2020, Democrats have averaged 49.0 percent of the vote and Republicans’ 45.2 percent. In eight of the 18 campaigns, the winner recorded only plurality support.
During the time span, Democrats won 10 statewide races and Republicans won eight, but the GOP has scored only one victory since 2016. Therefore, it is not surprising to again see close polling data, and we can expect similar results throughout the campaign cycle.
According to the Mellman data, Gov. Sisolak would lead ex-Sen. Heller, 46-43 percent, but the small margin tightens even further if Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo were to win the Republican nomination. In the Sisolak-Lombardo pairing, the governor edges the sheriff by half a percentage point, 44.9 – 44.4 percent.
In the Republican primary, asked of only those who said they plan to vote in that contest though the sample number was not released, Heller led Sheriff Lombardo, 31-23 percent, with former professional boxer Joey Gilbert and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee trailing with 11 and three percent, respectively.
On the positive side for Gov. Sisolak, his favorability index is only slightly upside-down at 46:48 percent, despite his handling of the COVID-19 virus getting a heavy 38:59 percent negative rating. He leads in all-important Clark County by 10 and seven points against Heller and Lombardo, respectively.
The governor saw a negative reading coming from Washoe County (Reno), however, which tends to act as a bellwether of the Nevada vote and an entity that Sisolak carried in 2018 against then-Attorney General Laxalt. The Mellman poll posted Heller to an eight-point lead over Sisolak in Washoe, while Sheriff Lombardo enjoyed a six-point edge.
In the Senate race, Sen. Cortez Masto holds only a 45-41 percent edge over Laxalt. Five years ago, she defeated then-Rep. Joe Heck (R) 47-45 percent, meaning her margin has not substantially increased as a result of her incumbency.
In the county segments, the senator held a relatively strong 11-plus point lead in Clark County, which houses just a touch over 73 percent of the entire population of Nevada. In the aforementioned Washoe County, the two were split evenly at 45 percent apiece, while the Republican dominated the Democratic senator in the state’s rural communities. There, Laxalt held a lead of greater than 30 percentage points, but the aggregate rural population is obviously small.
Once more we see tight Nevada polling data in a state that features close elections, though slightly leaning Democratic in the most recent voting. Republicans will compete hard here in the Senate contest because they have so few Democratic targets around the country even though close losses are the dominant pattern for them.
The Sisolak numbers suggest the governor has some underlying weakness not seen for Sen. Cortez Masto. Therefore, the chances of unseating him may be better than defeating the first-term senator. Either way, we can again expect to see heavy political fireworks next year coming from the Silver State.