Heller targeted as Dems regroup on guns

Sen. Dean Heller's approval dipped among Nevadans after he voted this month against stricter background checks for gun purchases, according to a poll released today and promoted by backers of President Barack Obama.

The survey by Public Policy Polling came as the Obama administration and its supporters worked to regain their footing after losing key Senate votes in the debate over gun control.

Polling in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio found strong support for universal background checks and a "serious backlash" against five senators who voted against the so-called Manchin-Toomey amendment to broaden the ones in place now, according to the Democratic-leaning polling group.

In a poll taken last Thursday and Friday among 500 Nevada voters, Heller's approval was 44 percent while his disapproval rate was 41percent, according to poll director Tom Jensen. That compared to a 47 percent approval in a poll taken last November, shortly before Heller won election.

The drop was within the poll's margin of error of 4.4 percent. Heller's approval took a steeper dive among independent voters who were key to his election, from 52 percent in November to 42 percent presently, the survey said.

Jensen said the drop in Heller's independent support suggests the seed of a problem for the Nevada Republican, even though he is not up for re-election until 2018.

Heller "won the state by one point while Barack Obama was winning by six" in Nevada, Jensen said. "The reason he was able to be elected was strong support from independent voters."

"What we saw last year is (Heller) has a very small margin for error in a state that is becoming increasingly Democratic, and this is the kind of vote that could haunt him for a long time. "

Heller "has come across as moderate to get elected in a state like Nevada, and when you are voting against 70 percent of the voters in your state on a key issue you are not keeping that centrist frame any more," Jensen said.

Jensen talked about the polling in a call with reporters organized by Americans United for Change, a grassroots organization associated with Obama.

Heller through his spokeswoman declined to comment on the poll. But a campaign spokeswoman for Senate Republicans defended Heller's vote against the Manchin-Toomey amendment, which wold have expanded gun checks to online sales and purchases made at gun shows.

"Senator Heller is committed to protecting Nevadans’ Second Amendment rights while ensuring current background checks are enforced. Any polling firm that claims Nevadans don't support the right to bear arms doesn't know Nevada," said Brook Hougesen, press secretary for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.