As Clark County's top law enforcement officers seek re-election in November, voters appear comfortable with their sheriff but are less sure about the district attorney.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who is running for a second four-year term, claims 60 percent of likely voters surveyed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow. But those same voters appear less willing to declare their support for District Attorney David Roger.
A whopping 41 percent of survey respondents said they haven't decided between Republican Roger or Democrat Don Chairez, even though Roger has been DA for nearly eight years.
A total of 405 registered Clark County voters participated in the three-day telephone survey conducted from Sept. 7-9. All said they vote regularly in state elections. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent. It's the first time the Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow have polled in these races during this election cycle.
Brad Coker, a pollster for Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, Inc., said he isn't surprised by the results.
"It's an anti-incumbent year, so one of the reasons you may have undecided is because Roger is an incumbent,'' Coker said. "It's a low-level office, and little local races are going to get buried until the very end. It's worth keeping an eye on."
Voters recognize Gillespie's name, which makes him a more popular candidate, Coker added.
But Coker doesn't consider Roger to be in trouble. Among the voters polled, 36 percent said they back Roger while 23 percent support Chairez. More Democrats, 43 percent, said they are undecided while more Republicans, 54 percent, said they will support Roger.
Roger said he isn't worried about swaying those undecided voters. He points to a 25 percent drop in the valley's crime rate and a strong stand he's taken against public corruption -- including recent cases against Dr. Dipak Desai and Lacy Thomas. Desai was charged with racketeering, insurance fraud and neglect of patients in connection with a hepatitis outbreak stemming from his clinics. Thomas was charged with theft and misconduct in connection with steering hospital contracts to Chicago associates.
"I'll let (voters) know that we'll continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to make sure those numbers drop even further," Roger said.
One of the biggest challenges for Roger has been the struggling economy.
"We're working with fewer prosecutors and staff than in the past," he said.
Both of the incumbents have had to address two unrelated controversial cases in which police shot and killed Erik Scott and Trevon Cole.
Both Chairez and Laurie Bisch, a patrol officer making her second bid for sheriff, have made public concern about the shootings and coroner's inquests a campaign issue.
"The recent coroner's inquests are an Achilles' heel for Roger as the county's chief legal officer responsible for conducting these inquests," said Chairez, a former district court judge. "People don't have faith in the process. Those inquests are flawed. It's the hottest issue in the D.A.'s race this year, and I need to remind the voters that he believes this is working just fine."
But Roger said the Cole and Scott shootings will not impact his campaign.
"That hasn't really come up in conversation with the public," Roger said. "Now, that has come up with conversations between the public and the sheriff, but not the public and the DA."
Roger, as of June 1, reported raising $139,000 in campaign contributions and had spent about $96,000. Chairez reported raising about $44,000 in donations, but also has given his campaign $200,000 of his own money.
"Traditionally nobody pays attention to the district attorney's race until the first week of October," said the former judge. "Roger is ahead because he has more of a sign presence and other stuff than we do."
Both candidates said they will soon air television ads.
Laurie Bisch, who lost to Gillespie in the nonpartisan sheriff's race in 2006, said she understands the battle ahead. Only 17 percent of voters said they support her. Even if all undecided voters, 23 percent of those surveyed, break her way she would still lose to Gillespie.
She, too said the controversial shootings could help her.
"There is a lot of controversy that's going to help," said Bisch. "The external controversy is reaching so much inside of the department. There are a lot of people unhappy and they want change."
But the poll results indicate otherwise, with 60 percent of those surveyed backing Gillespie despite the shootings, officer-caused fatal accidents and other events. Gillespie also commands a clear lead in donations, having raised $192,488 as of June 1, compared to Bisch's $29,300.
Gillespie is also seen as being able to reach across party lines, drawing support from 69 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of independents and 50 percent of Democrats.
"If you're telling me the poll is showing a lot of confidence in me, that makes me feel good," Gillespie said Friday. "But more importantly, it gives an exclamation to this organization that they are a fine police department and the community respects the tough job they have to do."
Contact Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.