Tag Archives: Jill Derby

Conflicting Data in Nevada’s 2nd District Special Election

Two surveys covering the Sept. 13 special election in Nevada’s 2nd congressional district were just released, producing very different results. Magellan Strategies, polling for Americans for Prosperity, went into the field Aug. 15-16 (656 registered NV-2 voters via automated phone calls) and found Republican Mark Amodei to be leading Democrat Kate Marshall by a hefty 48-35 percent margin. Two days later, Public Policy Polling began testing 600 NV-2 voters, also with automated calls (Aug. 18-21), and found Amodei’s advantage to be only 43-42 percent.

One reason for the large swing is the make-up of the two polling samples. Magellan’s consisted of 48 percent registered Republicans, 38 percent Democrats, and 14 percent Independents. PPP’s included 41 percent Republican, 37 percent Democrat, and 22 percent Independent respondents. According to the latest registered voter statistics (July 2011), NV-2 Republican registration is 43.1 percent; Democrats post 35.4 percent; and Independents (American Independents, Greens, Libertarians, Non-Partisan, and Other are the choices in Nevada) capture 21.5 percent of the district’s voters. Therefore, the PPP sample draw is the more accurate of the two, though they slightly discounted the Republican number. Magellan has the right number of Democrats, but their Republican composition is seven points high while the Independent is seven points low. Notice that the two polls differ by about those same margins. Magellan’s results are five points higher for the Republican candidate and seven points lower for the Democrat than PPP’s.

Though the 2nd District, which touches all 17 of Nevada’s counties but has its population anchor in Reno and Carson City, was originally drawn as a Republican seat in the 2001 redistricting plan, it has strayed much closer to the Democrats as the decade progressed. In 2004, then-President George W. Bush scored a 57 percent victory here over John Kerry. Four years later, Barack Obama and John McCain fought to a 49 percent draw. On the congressional front, in the open seat race of 2006 when Dean Heller (R) defeated Jill Derby (D), the GOP scored a 50-45 percent win. Two years later the same candidates finished 52-41 percent in favor of incumbent Heller. In the 2010 Republican landslide election, without strong opposition, Rep. Heller’s re-election margin was 63-33 percent.

Expect the current special election to be close. Both candidates are now airing television ads and neither are timid about going negative. The National Republican Congressional Committee has already dropped approximately $400,000 into the race, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to counter. Outside organizations for both sides are also expected to participate. In a special election, turnout is everything and the Democrats, as proven in the 2010 Senate campaign that re-elected Majority Leader Harry Reid 50-45% when polling was suggesting a different result, seem to have the superior ground apparatus.

The PPP data released the results of their long questionnaire and that produced interesting results too, mostly favoring the Republicans. Though Amodei’s favorability ratio is only 43:42 percent positive to negative, Marshall’s is 43:47 percent. President Obama’s job approval score is a weak 41:55 percent, and Reid’s is even worse at 39:56 percent. On the other hand, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval posts a strong 55:32 percent score.

Testing former NV-2 Rep. Heller, who is now the state’s interim Senator running for a full term against Las Vegas Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), his job approval number as a statewide federal official is 48:41 percent favorable to unfavorable, and he would defeat Berkley 52-40 percent in the current 2nd District if the US Senate vote were today.

The NV-2 special election is now kicking into high gear, and these combined polling results suggest a tough road for both candidates down the closing stretch. Waiting in the wings is Sharron Angle, the 2010 Republican Senatorial nominee who will enter the regular election in the new 2nd District, no matter what the final result of this campaign. Therefore, the new incumbent will face plenty of competition next year. The new 2nd District redistricting draw is expected to be very different from present. The Las Vegas portion of the district will no longer be included, as the new seat will be concentrated in Nevada’s northern sector. This plays right into Angle’s hands, so this current race merely begins what will likely be more than a year of steady political activity.
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Does Nevada Have the Right Angle in NV-2?

While the NY-26 special election has taken an interesting turn since Democrats might be on the doorstep of positioning themselves for an upset win on May 24, the NV-2 vacancy seems to be flowing in the opposite direction.

Last week, despite the contention from Nevada Republican Party officials that the state parties would choose nominees for the Sept. 13 special election to fill the unexpired portion of now-Sen. Dean Heller’s (R) current term in the House, Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller ruled that a jungle-ballot format would take precedence. This means anyone can run for the seat regardless of political party affiliation and, like in the Hawaii special election of 2010, the person obtaining the most votes in the one election, regardless of percentage, is elected. Such a format favors the candidate with the strongest base and plays against a particular party that may field two or more viable candidates.

Miller’s ruling was savvy on at least two points. First, he, as a potential aspirant for future higher office himself, scores points with the Democratic establishment because this is the best possible format for his party to steal what should be a reliable Republican seat. Second, even if the Republicans were to file suit against him, a court would be in a difficult position to rule against a Secretary of State who merely opened up the process equally to everyone, thus his decision is also legally secure.

It was originally believed that the Democrats had a legitimate shot in the jungle format because controversial 2010 GOP Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle would be in the field of candidates, since she had already announced for the seat in the regular election. Before Sen. John Ensign (R) resigned and Rep. Heller was appointed to replace him, the congressman had made known his intention to run for the Senate in the regular 2012 election. Angle barely lost the 2006 congressional nomination to Heller (by 421 votes) the last time the seat was open.

It was also conventional wisdom that Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) would hop into the congressional race. His strong presence would split the GOP vote and allow a consensus Democrat, presumably state Treasurer Kate Marshall, to slip by the split Republicans and win the seat with a plurality of the vote.

It appears now, however, that the tables have turned. While Angle did enter the special election contest, Krolicki backed away. State Republican Party chairman Mark Amodei, a former state legislator who briefly ran for the Senate in 2010 only to withdraw because he lacked funding, is now in the congressional race. But, so far, the only two other Republicans to declare candidacy are state Sen. Greg Brower and former US Navy officer Kirk Lippold, both of whom have small constituencies.

Amodei, coming from the more moderate wing of the party, could become the main alternative to Angle but none of the Republicans have as strong a political base, both financially and vote-based, as the former Senatorial nominee. Aside from barely losing the GOP primary to Heller in 2006, Ms. Angle actually carried the 2nd district, even against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in the 2010 general election. So, it is clear that this north/central Nevada region constitutes her main base of support.

Now, the Democrats have a potentially split field. While Treasurer Marshall, who most believe is the party’s strongest candidate, announced her candidacy, so did Jill Derby, the former state Democratic Party chair, university regent, and congressional nominee in both 2006 and ’08. Derby, too, has a base in the district. She held Heller to a respectable 45-50 percent winning percentage in ’06, but fell to 41-52 percent in the re-match. It is conceivable that she will take a significant percentage in the special election, votes that will more than likely come right from Marshall’s political hide. Additionally, former university regent and 2010 Democratic congressional nominee Nancy Price is also running again. Though she lost to Heller in a landslide 33-63% vote, she has the potential of snatching a few more votes from Marshall.

While two weeks ago it looked liked the Democrats were in an enviable special election position, the most recent events seem to be unfolding in Angle’s favor. Much more will happen before the May 25 filing deadline to better define the special election parameters. We will then see if the Democrats can fully coalesce behind Marshall, thus restoring what originally appeared to be a reasonable chance at victory.
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Nevada Sen. Ensign to Resign; Heller Likely to be Appointed

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), rocked with a sex and blackmail scandal that made winning re-election impossible, announced that he will resign his seat effective May 3rd. This will give newly elected Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) the opportunity of appointing a successor to serve until the next regular election in November 2012. All indications suggest that Sandoval will appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) as the interim senator. The congressman has already announced his intention to run for the open seat and has become the virtual consensus Republican candidate. Sandoval endorsed Heller for the seat long before it became known that Ensign would not serve the balance of his term.

Appointing Heller would give him incumbency advantage for the 17 months prior to the election. This will undoubtedly help him raise money; though, as a consensus candidate in a competitive U.S. Senate race, money would likely not have been an obstacle. One key difference, however: Upon appointment, Heller will be treated as an incumbent by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, thus making their involvement much easier than if the race happens to evolve into a contested primary. The party and institutional financial backing should give Heller an added boost in the general election as he will square-off with Las Vegas Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1). Last week Berkley made official her entry into the Senate race.

Nevada, the fastest growing U.S. state during the past decade (35 percent growth over the 10-year period; the national average was 9.7 percent) is a changing region. Previously, a place that leaned more Republican than Democrat, Nevada is now the quintessential swing state. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was re-elected 50-45 percent in a very difficult campaign, Sandoval was simultaneously out-distancing Reid’s son, Rory, in the governor’s race, 53-42 percent. Freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-3) was also turned out of office by current Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3) in the seat that has become the most over-populated congressional district in the nation, housing over one million inhabitants. The strong growth rate awarded the state a new congressional seat, the third consecutive decade such as happened. In 2008, Pres. Obama carried the state over John McCain by a lopsided 55-43 percent mark. Four years earlier, then-President Bush outpaced John Kerry here 50-48 percent.

Thus, the stage is set for another close election, and an incumbency advantage for Heller could be just the impetus he needs to cross the political finish line first.

But, appointing Mr. Heller could cause further controversy at the U.S. House level. Heller actually vacating his congressional seat to finish Ensign’s term, means a special election will be held in NV-2 later this year. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party activist who won the GOP Senate nomination but came up short against Sen. Reid, has already announced that she will run for the open seat in 2012. A special election would hasten the political clock and she will undoubtedly enter the early contest, with a strong chance of winning a split primary. In 2006, when Heller was first elected, Angle only lost the Republican primary to him by 421 votes (39.5 – 39.3 percent). In a crowded field of candidates, which will likely occur, securing a base of +35 percent likely means winning the nomination, and she has previously done better in this very territory. The 2nd district touches a small part of Clark County (Las Vegas), and then occupies the rest of the state, including Angle’s power base of Washoe County (Reno).

In a way, the special election might actually hinder Angle’s chances of winning the primary. In a redrawn 2nd district, the seat will likely lose it’s Clark County portion, a place where Angle performed 11 percentage points under Heller in 2006. But, the special election will occur in the current 2nd district. Originally drawn as a safe Republican seat, the 2nd has become marginal. In fact, Heller only scored a 50-45 percent win over Nevada Democratic Party chair Jill Derby in ’06, followed with a closer-than-expected 52-41 percent victory two years later against the same opponent. Derby may again become a candidate, and could be strong in a special general election particularly if Angle wins the Republican nomination.

It appears evident that Nevadans are headed for another lively and potentially bitter election cycle yet again, and one that will almost assuredly begin early.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.