Republican Brian Sandoval has a commanding lead over Democrat Rory Reid in the race for Nevada governor as early voting is about to begin.
Results of a new statewide poll show Sandoval with a 15 percentage point advantage and suggest it will take "a seismic event" to turn the race around.
The poll by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow shows 52 percent of respondents prefer Sandoval and 37 percent favor Reid, a dynamic that suggests the millions of dollars Reid has spent promoting himself and attacking Sandoval hasn't been enough to pull significant support from the Republican.
It's a situation that leaves Team Reid in need of a crippling gaffe or stunning revelation that could take down Sandoval in a stretch run that concludes Nov. 2 on Election Day.
"It would take a seismic event -- like an indictment -- to change things," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report.
The latest poll was taken by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research after the candidates' second statewide debate and appears to affirm post-debate analysis that said Reid failed to prod Sandoval into making a mistake that could erode support, which has remained above 50 percent throughout the campaign in almost every published poll.
"In the last debate he came across as less polished, was not as comfortable," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at University of Nevada, Reno. "Sandoval just looked like a governor. People say that's not a criteria. That's a big criteria."
A compilation of public polls on the website Real Clear Politics shows an average margin of 16.4 percentage points in favor of Sandoval. The Real Clear Politics average includes earlier polls that showed a margin of more than 20 percentage points. In recent weeks public polls have tightened to as close as 9 percentage points.
Polling by Suffolk University that overlapped with the latest Mason-Dixon survey showed Sandoval with an 11 percentage point lead.
The Suffolk poll, which showed Sandoval ahead 50-39, was based on a turnout of 42 percent Democrats, 37 percent Republicans and 16 percent independents. Mason-Dixon anticipated 42 percent Democrats, 40 percent Republicans and 18 percent independent.
The Suffolk turnout forecast is based on the expectation people who actually vote will reflect statewide registration. Mason-Dixon anticipates slightly higher Republican turnout that reflects the reported "enthusiasm gap" observers say favors the GOP this season.
Another recent survey by Public Policy Polling showed Sandoval leading Reid 52 to 43 percent based on respondents who broke 41 percent Democrat, 40 percent Republican and 19 percent independent.
Public Policy Polling President Dave Debnam attributed Reid's slight improvement to a solidification of each candidate's base. He added it still "looks like a very tough office" for Reid to win.
The Reid campaign has boasted about time and money that it has spent preparing to get the Democrat's voters to the polls.
Reid spokesman Mike Trask said the Democrat has momentum in the form of tightening polls and a statewide organization poised to take advantage. He cited the polls showing the smallest gap between candidates as evidence.
"We have a field program that we have been working on for months. That is going to be integral in the coming 19 days," Trask said. "Frankly the Review-Journal poll is the outlier here. We're excited about where we are."
But Suffolk, Mason-Dixon and Public Policy Polling forecasts suggest it would still take a major development to alter the final outcome.
"He needs something big of a personal nature to get voters to question Sandoval," said David Damore, a professor of political science at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Sandoval leads Reid in every category covered in the survey conducted by Mason-Dixon, except Democrats.
In Clark County, Reid's home turf and where he serves as chairman of the county commission, Sandoval leads 49 to 40.
In Washoe County, which Sandoval represented as a state legislator before going on to become attorney general, gaming commission chairman and a federal judge, the Republican leads 55 to 34. In rural Nevada, Sandoval leads 62 to 27 percent.
Among women Sandoval leads 46 to 40. With men, Sandoval's advantage is 59 to 33.
Reid does have an advantage among Democrats, who prefer him 72 to 14 percent over Sandoval. But that advantage is offset by Republicans who picked Sandoval over Reid 91 to 1 percent.
Among independents Sandoval leads 55 to 33 percent.
Statewide, just 8 percent of respondents say they remain undecided.
"These numbers aren't budging," said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon. "They haven't changed that much, and it is getting late in the game."
Reid's failure to connect with a majority of the electorate is not for lack of trying.
Through his campaign he has released more than a half-dozen plans and policy proposals for everything from reforming Nevada's education system to fixing the state's faltering economy.
Sandoval has published an education plan of his own but hasn't issued a detailed economic vision nor a plan to balance a state budget that could be $3 billion in the red when the next governor takes office.
Sandoval has also avoided joint appearances with Reid, saving for four scheduled debates, two of which have already been completed.
"My opponent will never show up," Reid told an audience Wednesday night at Temple Beth Sholom in Las Vegas, where he was the lone candidate on stage with moderator Jon Ralston after Sandoval declined an invitation. "I've done a lot of lonely forums."
Ralston, Nevada's most recognized political commentator, concurred.
"It is a shame that (Sandoval) has avoided so many of these forums," Ralston told the audience of a few hundred people.
Still, observers point to mistakes by Reid that resulted in lost opportunities to gain ground.
Most notably, the budget-balancing plan Reid touts regularly as evidence of his readiness to be governor includes more than $600 million in revenue nonpartisan analysts have stated simply doesn't exist and couldn't be included in official budget forecasts.
Sandoval used Reid's rosy projections as a cudgel in the most recent debate, telling viewers on statewide television such a plan would be laughed out of the Legislature.
In addition to the unlikely budget projection, Reid also said he would consider signing a budget that contains tax increases, a shift from an earlier stance against raising taxes that he has since readopted.
Herzik referenced a political adage attributed to former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, D-Texas, that goes "you don't have to explain what you don't say," to explain Reid's problem gaining poll traction.
"Reid has gotten tangled up in what he has said, so I'm not surprised that these poll numbers are still pretty ominous," Herzik said.
Reid also faces an opponent in Sandoval who has been difficult to attack. Sandoval destroyed incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons in the Republican primary, the first time in state history an incumbent seeking a second gubernatorial term lost his party primary.
And the Republican benefits from positive name recognition thanks to his earlier career as attorney general, a statewide elected office. Since 2005, Sandoval has been working as a federal judge in Reno, a position that afforded him the luxury of appearing to be above party politics.
The Mason-Dixon respondents reported a 53 percent favorable recognition rate for Sandoval compared to 21 percent with an unfavorable recognition and 24 percent neutral.
In contrast, Reid is a member of a county commission that has been embroiled in controversy.
Although Reid has gotten high marks as a fair-minded and sharp member of the commission, the overall reputation of the board is low, particularly in the north.
"You make enemies when you are in office," said Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. "And (Reid) has been there for a while."
Reid has also had a hard time emerging from the shadow of his father, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The elder Reid is locked in an ugly, negative campaign with Republican Sharron Angle that is overshadowing races down the ticket.
The percentage of Mason-Dixon respondents with a favorable recognition of Rory Reid was 34 percent, lower than that of his father and Angle. Rory Reid's unfavorable recognition rate was 45 percent, and 19 percent had a neutral view of him.
The Angle-Reid race and a broader backlash against incumbent Democrats attributed to angst over the economy makes it even more difficult for Rory Reid to define himself and his message.
"I don't know it is just the name, it is just not a good year for Democrats across the board," Coker said.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.