Democrat Rory Reid continues to chisel away at Republican Brian Sandoval's lead in the Nevada governor's race.
But Reid may need a jackhammer to make what's left of Sandoval's lead crumble before election day, results of a Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll suggest.
Although a controversial ad blitz alleging Sandoval is too cozy with bank lobbyists has helped Reid rally Democrats, Sandoval is still the preferred choice of 51 percent of likely voters compared to 37 percent who picked Reid. Reid trails badly among independents and slightly on his home turf of Clark County.
"He's in trouble," said David Damore, a political science professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, of Reid. "He needs something more than that to change the dynamic of the race."
The latest poll, conducted Monday through Wednesday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, shows Reid narrowing the gap. Four weeks ago, Sandoval led Reid 53-31. Two weeks ago, Sandoval's lead had dropped to 52-36.
The survey included results from interviews with 625 likely voters -- 43 percent Democrats, 41 percent Republicans and 16 percent independent. The margin for error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The 14 percentage point gap was narrower than a compilation of public polls posted at www.RealClearPolitics.com, which shows Sandoval leading by an average margin of 21.2 points. Partisan polls in recent weeks have put the spread between Reid and Sandoval in single-digits -- including one released Friday conducted by Republican-leaning Public Opinion Strategies for the Retail Association of Nevada that showed Sandoval leading by 6 percentage points, 45 to 39, in a poll of 500 people.
The new public Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll shows registered Democrats coalescing behind Reid. But the Clark County Commission chairman is still having trouble attracting independent voters who results show prefer Sandoval 58 to 26 percent.
Reid still trails Sandoval, of Reno, in Southern Nevada, with 47 percent of Clark County respondents picking the Republican and 41 percent choosing the Democrat.
It all makes a tough row to hoe for Reid in the final weeks of the campaign, which would explain the series of ads Reid launched recently.
The ads seek to tie Sandoval to banking industry lobbyists -- a politically unpopular group in recession-battered Nevada -- through a 1997 bank bill Sandoval sponsored when he was a member of the Assembly.
The ads have been complimented for their production value but criticized for making unsupported allegations and twisting words by editing video from a news program to change the order of Sandoval's statements.
"We know repetition makes people say a statement is true," said Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan who has studied voters' responses to political wordplay. "The ad is probably drowning out whatever media coverage is providing context."
The ad blitz has helped Reid climb from longshot to mere underdog. His remaining challenge is evident in survey responses that show a big Sandoval advantage in the impression respondents have of each candidate.
The results show 53 percent of respondents reporting a favorable impression of Sandoval, 23 percent unfavorable, 22 percent neutral and 2 percent no recognition of the Republican.
"It just seems he is right out of central casting, there is no real baggage with him," Damore said of Sandoval, a former federal judge, attorney general, gaming commission chairman and assemblyman.
For Reid, 34 percent had a favorable impression, 43 percent unfavorable, 22 percent neutral and 1 percent didn't recognize him.
Reid also faces a challenge because he's on the same ballot as his father, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. The elder Reid is locked in a tough re-election campaign with Republican challenger Sharron Angle and has an unfavorable rating of 54 percent among the electorate. The ugliness and prominence of the Senate campaign makes it hard for the younger Reid to distinguish himself in the eyes of voters.
"I'm just sick of Harry Reid and I don't know too much about Rory," said Paula Sebestyen, 60, a retired casino worker from Las Vegas, describing why she chose Sandoval in the poll. "If he was raised by Harry I have got to believe the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
Even some who picked Reid were wary of the family ties, with respondents for both candidates saying they chose "the lesser of two evils."
"I just think he was too connected to the banking industry, that is basically it," said Denise Trout of Las Vegas, who didn't give her age, of why she doesn't plan to vote for Sandoval. Trout's concern with Sandoval echoed the accusation Reid raised in his recent attack ads.
Trout also expressed concern about Reid's family ties, adding, "I sort of hate the dynasty business."
Several voters who preferred Reid said they liked his emphasis on education. The Democrat has made education his number one issue, with plans to reform both K-12 and higher education.
"I think Reid has got a plan laid out more," said Joyce Smith, 73, of Henderson, a retired teacher. "Sandoval just keeps saying nothing."
Mental health counselor Kathy Maxfield, 56, of Las Vegas said she thinks Reid would do a better job than Sandoval in preserving Nevada's notoriously frayed social safety net.
"It seems to me that (Reid) has become more specific with some of his positions," Maxfield said. "If some taxes have to be raised, so be it."
Nearly everyone contacted who preferred Sandoval expressed distrust of Reid's family name.
"I don't know anything about the other guy at all except that he is connected to Reid and I don't like Reid at all," said Bruce Folkner, 86, of Gardnerville.
The most recent pol was the first to include every candidate who will be on the ballot, with respondents given a choice to pick Green, Libertarian, Independent American party candidates or one of two independents instead of just Sandoval, Reid, none of these and undecided.
The additional choices didn't appear to alter the dynamic between the Sandoval and Reid, as no minor-party or unaffiliated candidate received more than 1 percent of the total.
"I probably will vote Libertarian if Sandoval has a big enough lead," said Jared Edwards, 40, of Las Vegas. "It is just not worth the risk of ending up with a terrible Democrat to vote out of principle."
Brad Coker, managing director of the Mason-Dixon polling firm, said it appears Democrats getting behind Reid is the reason the race is tightening.
Still, Reid needs to make a major gain among independents and to turn a slight Clark County deficit into a big lead in order to overtake Sandoval.
"Democrats alone aren't going to get him elected," Coker said. "A five to six point win in Clark County is not going to offset the 65-35 that is going to come out of the rest of the state."
With just 7 percent of likely voters undecided in the Mason-Dixon results, Reid not only needs to get them all, he needs to convince Sandoval supporters to change their minds.
"There are not enough undecideds to flip it at this point," Coker said.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-477-3861.