Nevadans aren't warming up to Sen. Harry Reid, despite plenty of early advertising designed to boost his image, a new poll shows.
Just 38 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Senate majority leader, the same percentage as in October and 1 point higher than in August.
The survey of 625 registered Nevada voters by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research suggests the promotional bombardment that Reid launched more than six weeks ago has yet to hit its target.
"I'd be worried," said Michael Franz, an assistant professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, who studies political advertising. "I'd stop if I had aired ads for two or three weeks and it wasn't moving the needle."
According to the poll commissioned by the Review-Journal, 49 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Reid, while 13 percent were neutral.
"We've always said we will run an aggressive campaign that includes early television, and this is just the beginning," said Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall. "Senator Reid is fighting to make Nevada stronger every day, and his leadership position is particularly important during these tough economic times. We're confident that as voters begin to understand the clear choice between his leadership for Nevada and Republican candidates with no new ideas, they will ultimately decide that Nevada is best served by re-electing Senator Reid next November."
Among nine Republican candidates vying to challenge Reid in November only three had support levels in double digits: businesswoman and former GOP official Sue Lowden, attorney and businessman Danny Tarkanian, and former Nevada assemblywoman Sharron Angle.
Lowden and Tarkanian were in a statistical tie, with support from 25 percent and 24 percent of Republican respondents, respectively. Angle was supported by 13 percent.
Six other Republicans received support from 1 percent or less. Ed Hamilton, who is challenging Reid in the Democratic primary, wasn't tested in the Mason-Dixon poll and isn't expected to factor into the outcome.
In hypothetical general election matchups, respondents favored Lowden over Reid 51 percent to 41 percent, with 8 percent undecided. They favored Tarkanian over Reid 48 percent to 42 percent, with 10 percent undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Reid, who is seeking his fifth consecutive six-year term, was recognized by 100 percent of respondents, suggesting he is well-known to voters.
Pollster Brad Coker says Reid's early ad campaign to remind voters of his hardscrabble childhood in Searchlight and highlight his efforts to use his Senate status to create, save or protect tens of thousands of jobs "isn't doing him much good right now."
The ad campaign started in October and is possible because Reid expects to raise as much as $25 million to preserve his seat.
"In respect to a general election, this is one of the earliest (ad campaigns) we have ever seen," said Lisa Howfield, general manager of KVBC-TV, Channel 3 in Las Vegas.
Howfield says Reid has been concentrating his buys around news programs.
"That is where voters tend to view. He is certainly being smart about placing the buys," she said.
Republicans seeking to challenge Reid seized on the poll results.
"It just shows that Reid has reached a point where people aren't listening to him anymore," said Jamie Fisfis, a consultant to Tarkanian.
Robert Uithoven, a consultant to Lowden, said, "No amount of threats of vaporizing his opponents will cure his numbers."
Whether tepid support 11 months before the general election for Reid, who turned 70 on Wednesday, will translate into defeat remains to be seen.
With nine Republicans maneuvering against each other in the primary and 33 percent of Republican voters still undecided, Coker says Lowden and Tarkanian have lots to worry about before anyone gets a chance to challenge Reid directly.
"Honestly, I think the two of them need to worry about getting through the primary right now," Coker said. "They have to go through the primary, and at some point the gloves will come off. If the Republican primary becomes a bloodbath, they might change these numbers down the road."
Also, Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling recently noted that in 2008 pollsters surveying in Nevada didn't catch all of the support for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, with some missing his 12-point victory by as many as eight points.
"I don't know if any of them have changed anything about their Nevada polling after last year, but if not it's possible that Democratic performance in the state is still being shortchanged by the polls," Jensen wrote Monday in a post on his polling blog.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.