Dem poll has Berkley ahead in Senate race

Shelley Berkley holds a two-point advantage over Dean Heller in the Nevada Senate race, according to the summary of an internal poll circulated by Democrats today.

The survey shows the campaign overall continues to be tight, with the Democratic congresswoman at 44 percent and the Republican senator at 42 percent.

"Berkley benefits from large leads among Hispanic voters, and from significant advantages among women and voters under age 35," according to a two page memo from Democratic pollster Geoff Garin.

The poll also tested two of the leading messages being pushed by the candidates against each other -- Berkley's charge that Heller wants to "end Medicare as we know it," and Heller's charge that Berkley is ethically challenged as evidenced by an ongoing House investigation.

Garin said the question was asked:

When it comes to deciding how to vote, which is a bigger concern for you?
(A) Shelley Berkley's ethics and the criticism that she has been involved in conflicts of interest by advocating projects that benefited her husband's business, OR
(B) Dean Heller's record on Medicare and the criticism that he voted twice to gut Medicare and force seniors to pay six thousand dollars more while giving more tax breaks to millionaires.

According to the Democrats , 49 percent of voters were concerned more about Heller's stance on Medicare while 29 percent were more concerned about Berkley's ethics. Among voters 65 and older the split was 51 percent to 28 percent more concerned about Medicare.

Further, "given the focus on ethics in the Nevada Senate race, it is noteworthy that the two candidates essentially are at parity when voters compare them on being honest and ethical," according to Garin.

"Among all voters, 33 percent say Heller is better on this dimension, 30 percent say Berkley is better, 7 percent say both are good, 12 percent say neither is good, and 18 percent are not sure."

Garin said the results were similar to a poll taken in May. That poll was taken before the House ethics committee announced on July 9 it was forming an investigative subcommittee to investigate Berkley's lobbying on kidney health issues that appeared to benefit her husband, a nephrologist.

Garin also said the poll showed Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney by 49 percent to 44 percent in Nevada, a finding that would be helpful to Berkley who is counting on some level of Obama coattails.

The complete poll, commissioned by the independent expenditure arm of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was not made public Friday. Garin said its sampling of 613 respondents was largely consistent with the breakdown of registered Democrat and Republican voters in Nevada.

The poll was the first this year to show Berkley with a lead. Seven independent polls released since the beginning of the year have shown Heller with small leads in what is considered one of the key matchups that could determine which party controls the Senate in 2013.

A Democratic strategist maintained the poll shows Berkley by and large has withstood an estimated $2.5 million in advertising by Heller and the Crossroads GPS superPAC that have attacked her on ethics.

On the other hand, Heller's chief campaign consultant said the poll "is an outlier to be kind."

"To claim that Congresswoman Berkley and Senator Heller have equal standing on the issue of ethics is comical," Mike Slanker said. "The DSCC needed to do something to try to convince folks the congresswoman’s campaign was still viable. Reality unfortunately for her is far different from this poll."