The battle for Nevada's new House seat is whisker close, with Republican Danny Tarkanian narrowly leading Democrat Steven Horsford, 45 percent to 42 percent, according to a new poll.
Tarkanian is running neck-and-neck with Horsford in Clark County, where most of the district's voters live, and he is overwhelming his opponent in the congressional seat's six GOP-heavy rural counties, according to the survey commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow.
The poll shows Tarkanian with a 21-point advantage among non-partisan voters (53-32) and picking up crossover Democratic support at 11 percent, giving him the edge in the 4th Congressional District, where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by 10 percentage points.
Tarkanian, an attorney and businessman, continues to benefit from higher name recognition thanks to three previous political campaigns, deep family ties in Southern Nevada and his former basketball career at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he was coached by his famous father, Jerry Tarkanian.
"Name recognition goes a long way," said Jay Leve of SurveyUSA. "I think that accounts for a good deal of his support. There are some who felt the Democrat would be able to clobber Tarkanian in this district. And we're not seeing that. I think the battle is still being fought. They're close enough where victory is within their grasps."
Early voting starts Oct. 20; the Nov. 6 election is less than seven weeks away.
Horsford, the Nevada Senate majority leader, needs to shore up his Democratic support, including President Barack Obama's backers and Hispanics, who favor Tarkanian 42 percent to 34 percent .
In the district, Obama leads GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, 52 percent to 43 percent . The president's support is 10 points higher than Horsford's among those surveyed.
Both Horsford and Obama have room to grow: 55 percent of those surveyed said they voted for Obama in 2008. Only 37 percent of those polled said they voted for Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
The district covers the lower half of Nevada, including parts of Clark County, a portion of Lyon County and all of Mineral, Esmeralda, Lincoln, White Pine and Nye counties.
In Clark County, Tarkanian edged out Horsford, 44 percent to 43 percent. The poll showed Tarkanian winning urban Clark County, 50 percent to 40 percent, but losing the suburban vote to Horsford, 39 percent to 44 percent. Tarkanian beat Horsford two-to-one in rural Clark County, 62 percent to 30 percent.
In all other counties, Tarkanian led Horsford, 49 percent to 33 percent.
David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the survey suggests Horsford still must raise his profile after serving two terms in the state Senate, including as the first African-American majority leader.
Damore said Horsford's fate probably will rest on how well Democrats turn out the vote in the district, especially in North Las Vegas, his Senate base of support and where he grew up.
"Horsford is not holding all the Obama voters," Damore said of the senator, who was an early backer of Obama and his campaign co-chairman in 2008. "It looks like Horsford's having problems with the Democratic base right now."
While Obama's campaign could help pull Horsford to victory, the Romney campaign could become a drag on Tarkanian if the GOP nominee and Republicans fail to match the Democrats' turnout machine, Damore said.
"I think that's why you're seeing a lot of down-ticket folks distancing themselves from Romney lately," he said.
The House contest has been nasty, with each accusing the other of ethical lapses. But the poll suggests the mud has yet to stick to either candidate.
Both men have higher favorable ratings than unfavorable ones . Some 35 percent have a good opinion of Tarkanian compared with 21 percent with a poor opinion. Horsford's ratings were 33 percent and 25 percent.
The pollster asked three questions to determine who voters trust more:
■ Asked who has more personal integrity, 38 percent said Tarkanian; 34 percent said Horsford.
■ Asked who better understands the difference between right and wrong, 38 percent said Tarkanian; 32 percent said Horsford.
■ Asked who thinks they're "above the law," 28 percent said Horsford; 25 percent said Tarkanian.
In each case, from a third to nearly half of voters answered "not sure."
"You cannot say either one of these candidates has really won the ethical battle on personal integrity," Leve said. "That's surprising, given the negative campaigning. I think this battle is still being fought."
Tarkanian and his family are facing a $17 million federal judgment in a real estate loan deal gone bad .
Horsford has been criticized for parking in a handicapped space, accepting an overseas junket from an online poker company and proposing donors that get special access to lawmakers in exchange for specific contributions, a scheme he canceled after complaints.
On the issues, nearly half of those surveyed, or 48 percent, said "jobs" top the list of concerns.
Asked who would "fight harder" to create jobs in Nevada, 42 percent said Tarkanian, 38 percent Horsford.
Horsford's campaign seemed pleased with the new poll results following early surveys commissioned by Tarkanian's camp that showed him further ahead.
"While we see some flaws with this poll, particularly as it's related to the Hispanic and urban vote, we're encouraged by the momentum that the poll shows," said Tim Hogan, a Horsford spokesman. "Even as a Karl Rove-funded super PAC floods the airwaves with negative ads, voters are clearly responding to Steven's message and his record of creating jobs."
Ron Futrell, a Tarkanian spokesman, said the survey shows the Republican making gains among moderate Democrats who dislike Horsford's history of voting for record tax increases. He said the poll also confirms Tarkanian is making inroads among urban minorities, including those who associate him with his nonprofit basketball academy .
"Danny is not just a better candidate but a better choice for this district," Futrell said, noting he has almost universal support among Republicans and has been wooing Democrats and independents. "There are a lot of conservative Democrats in the district that know Danny and like Danny and don't accept the extreme positions of Horsford."
The poll was conducted Tuesday and Wednesday by SurveyUSA. It reached 646 likely voters, using land lines and cellphones, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Those surveyed closely reflected the makeup of the district, with 45 percent of those polled registered Democrats, 33 percent Republicans and 21 percent nonpartisan. About 18 percent are Hispanic, and 12 percent are African-American .
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.