Former federal judge Brian Sandoval is still cruising with a big lead in the race for governor of Nevada, but a new poll shows Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid is at least visible in the rear view mirror.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll shows 52 percent of registered voters prefer Republican Sandoval compared with 36 percent who favor Democrat Reid.
The 16 percentage-point gap is daunting for Reid, but less so than the 22-point deficit to Sandoval a similar poll showed two weeks ago. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The website Real Clear Politics has a compilation of polls from several sources with an average margin of 19 percentage points in favor of Sandoval. This adds up to an Everest-like climb for Reid to overtake Sandoval in the days between now and the Nov. 2 election.
"He has a very difficult path to victory," GOP political consultant Ryan Erwin said of Reid's standing. "I don't think it is impossible, but it is getting there."
The biggest shift in favor of Reid since the last R-J/Channel 8 poll was a move by more Democrats to his side.
The latest poll shows 70 percent of Democrats now back Reid with 16 percent favoring Sandoval. Two weeks ago a similar poll showed just 58 percent of Democrats behind Reid and 21 percent picking Sandoval.
The increase in support from his fellow party members is good news for Reid, but it isn't nearly enough to suggest Sandoval has lost his advantage.
Independents favored Sandoval 58 percent to 27 percent, and registered voters in Clark County chose Sandoval, who lives in Reno, over Reid 48 percent to 40 percent.
"That's the bad news for him, the Clark number," said David Damore, a political science professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "These are the people who know Rory Reid the best. To still be losing in the Democratic stronghold is troubling."
Political number-cruncher Nate Silver at The New York Times 538 political blog, who has studied all the public polls in the race, posted a report Labor Day weekend saying Sandoval had a 96.2 percent chance of winning.
Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the new survey, and said he doesn't see any significant shift.
"He's gained some support among Democrats ... but he is still down double digits," Coker said of Reid.
Reid's polling problems are not for lack of effort. The son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is well connected in Democratic circles. He had already raised millions of dollars in campaign contributions before Sandoval entered the race. Next week, he will host former President Bill Clinton for a rally at the Four Seasons in Mandalay Bay.
Reid has also sought to establish himself as the candidate of substance in the race, releasing bound, glossy plans on how to fix everything from the schools to the state's economy.
In addition, he's paid for a steady stream of negative attacks on Sandoval, the latest being a web ad that highlights a 1994 newspaper article in which Sandoval said he opposed using public money for vouchers to allow kids to attend private schools.
During the race for governor, Sandoval has repeatedly said he is in favor of such vouchers, and even included them as part of his education plan.
On Friday, Sandoval said Nevada schools have deteriorated since 1994, necessitating more drastic measures such as vouchers.
"Tinkering with the system just won't work," he said. "Ending teacher tenure, stopping social promotion, instituting merit pay and giving parents complete freedom of choice as to the school their child attends will shake up the system."
Whether Sandoval's shifting views on education will matter remains to be seen. The new poll showed 71 percent of respondents think Nevada's lousy economy is the No. 1 issue facing the state. Education was a distant second, with just 11 percent saying it is the top issue.
But Reid's campaign has already hitched its wagon to education as a potential winning issue.
Late last month Reid also promised more criticism of Sandoval in September in an effort to close the gap, although it has yet to materialize.
Among Reid's challenges is that Sandoval is well regarded among the electorate, having served as a federal judge, attorney general, gaming commission chairman and assemblyman.
"He is not extreme in any way," Erwin said. "Sandoval is going to be a very, very difficult guy to make an attack stick on."
The latest survey results from Mason-Dixon show 51 percent of registered voters have a favorable view of Sandoval, 21 percent see him unfavorably and 25 percent are neutral.
For Reid, just 32 percent view him favorably, 45 percent view him unfavorably and 20 percent are neutral.
The view from inside the Reid campaign isn't as dire as the new poll results would suggest.
An internal campaign poll taken Aug. 27-Sept. 1 shows a 7 percentage-point gap, with Reid getting 39 percent and Sandoval 46.
"There are several polls that show Rory within single digits of Brian Sandoval," said campaign spokesman Mike Trask.
If Sandoval's campaign is worried about Reid's internal poll results, the worry does not show. Sandoval has yet to go on statewide television or engage any major lines of attack , two clear signals the campaign thinks the lead is safe, at least for now.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.