Sandoval’s Decision in Nevada;
Portman Race Tightens in Ohio

June 11, 2015 — The Republicans’ first choice to succeed retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, will take a pass. In an announcement made Tuesday, Gov. Sandoval, who never showed any real interest in running for the Senate, formally stated that he will not seek the seat.

Sandoval, who wants to complete his second term as Nevada’s chief executive said, “My undivided attention must be devoted to being the best governor, husband and father I can be. For these reasons, I will not seek the United States Senate seat that will be available in 2016.”

All attention now turns to Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3). While it was no secret that Sandoval was a long shot to run for the Senate at best, GOP leaders simultaneously courted Heck, and it is apparent that a Senate campaign announcement from him will soon be forthcoming. At that point, in what will likely be a marathon general election campaign, the battle between Heck and presumed-Democratic nominee Catherine Cortez Masto (former attorney general) will begin.

Ohio Senate

A new Public Policy Polling survey (June 4-7; 859 registered Ohio voters; 411 likely Ohio Republican primary voters; 360 likely Ohio Democratic voters) shows a closing of the hypothetical general election contest between Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) and former Gov. Ted Strickland (D). The new PPP data gives Portman only a two-point, 43-41 percent, edge.

We can generally expect to see polling results similar to this through the next year, at the very least. Since Ohio is a swing state, and polls even closer than many of its final results, the contest will likely be considered a toss-up for most of the election cycle. Sen. Portman, however, is a top fundraiser and campaigner so he will be very difficult for Strickland to dislodge regardless of what individual polls might report. At the end of the last financial reporting period, for example, Sen. Portman had just over $8 million cash-on-hand as compared to Strickland’s $650,000.

The current data shows that both men are viewed almost identically. Sen. Portman’s approval rating is 35:35 percent favorable to unfavorable, while ex-Gov. Strickland registers a 39:38 percent ratio. Portman defeated then-Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) 57-39 percent in 2010. That was the same year Strickland lost to John Kasich (R), 47-49 percent.

But, at least Strickland is headed toward a primary confrontation. Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is an announced Democratic candidate and shows no signs of yielding to the former governor. The PPP poll gives Strickland little worry in his quest for the party nomination, however. The survey finds the ex-Ohio chief executive with a robust 65-13 percent lead over the young Cincinnati local official. Strickland’s favorability ratio among Democrats is 60:23 percent positive to negative.

But, the Portman standing among Republicans could raise some eyebrows. Former Secretary of State, state Treasurer, and mayor of Cincinnati Ken Blackwell was tested as a placebo primary opponent for Portman, though the latter has given no indication that he is considering challenging the senator. In 2010, Blackwell was a public supporter of Portman’s.

But, the data does show that Portman is in need of shoring up his Republican base. The results only give him a 53:25 percent favorability rating, and find him leading Blackwell 57-24 percent. Both of these figures should be better. If other polling begins to show similar trends, we can expect to see Portman working to strengthen his right political flank.

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