Poll shows key Nevada races in dead heat

The political battles at the top of Nevada ballot remain a statistical dead heat as the calendar keeps advancing to November, according to polling released early today.

• President Barack Obama carries a narrow 48 percent to 46 percent lead over Mitt Romney among registered voters.

• Republican Sen. Dean Heller leads Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, 46 percent to 44 percent.

Both races were within the 3 percent margin of error in the snapshot conducted by NBC and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, a partnership that is surveying battleground states.

Obama turned Nevada blue in 2008 with a solid win, but the latest poll confirms a deepening shade of purple in the state arguably hardest hit by the recession.

Here is discussion of the poll.

Here are the presidential poll charts.

Here is the Senate poll breakdown.

"President Obama is nowhere near the twelve percentage point victory he had in Nevada four years ago but at 48 percent he remains within striking distance to carry the state,"  said Lee Miringoff,  director of the Marist polling institute.

Nevadans have a favorable impression of Obama but only by a 48 percent to 46 percent margin.  When asked if the nation is generally going in the right direction or is off on the wrong track,  a majority of 55 percent responded "wrong track."

The poll leaves little doubt as well that the economy is the most important issue shaping Nevadans' votes.   Seventy-eight percent said economic issues were more important, while 17 percent said social issues.

Miringoff said clues to the Nevada race might be found in the poll breakdowns of voters based on gender and age.

Romney is up among men 52 percent to 41 percent for Obama.  Obama has a 54 percent to 40 percent lead among women.

Obama also is carrying voters younger than 30.  Some 54 percent of them favor the incumbent while Romney draws support from 44 percent.   On the other hand,  Romney holds a 53 percent- 41 percent nod among voters older than 60.

Polling in the Senate race shows a divide between northern and southern Nevada,  no surprise to strategists who believe their candidates have to do well -- or well enough -- outside their bases.

Berkley, who has represented Las Vegas in the U.S. House since 1999, carries a 48 percent -42 percent margin in Clark County.  Some Democrats believe Berkley must draw as much as 55 percent in Clark to offset Heller's strengths elsewhere.

In the battleground of Washoe County, Heller, an appointed senator who was former secretary of state and a House member from Carson City, leads 51 percent to 39 percent.  As expected he also is leading in rural Nevada counties,  67 percent - 25 percent. Berkley is leading among independent voters, 45 percent to 37 percent.

Among Latinos,  a key demographic, Berkley leads 57 percent to 39 percent.  She also is pulling 85 percent of the black vote, while white voters are preferring Heller 53 percent -38 percent.

The poll also showed 11 percent of Democratic voters are considering crossing over to vote for Heller.  Heller, on the other hand, is  losing 7 percent of GOP voters.

Strategists from both parties were scrubbing the poll this morning for meaning -- and flaws -- in the Senate survey.

A Republican strategist argued pollsters appeared to oversample Clark County and undersample Washoe County and rural Nevada, which could have helped Berkley's numbers.

Additionally, the poll appeared to assume Hispanics will make up 19 percent of voters, which the GOP believes may be a reach.

On the other hand, Democrats said the poll undercounted women and undercounted Democrats, which would figure to boost Berkley and depress Heller's numbers.

"Dean Heller is continuing to travel across this state working for every vote," his campaign spokesman Chandler Smith said in a statement this morning following release of the survey.

“While this race remains a dead heat, voters on Election Day will choose Shelley Berkley's commitment to creating middle-class jobs," said her campaign manager Jessica Mackler.