One week from Election Day, a new poll shows Republican Danny Tarkanian leading Democrat Steven Horsford 47 percent to 42 percent in the race for Congressional District 4 despite voter registration statistics suggesting the seat should be a shoo-in for Democrats.
It's a slight shift in Tarkanian's favor since a similar survey in September showed Tarkanian edging Horsford 45 percent to 42 percent, close enough to fall within the margin of error.
The new survey, which included likely voters as well as some respondents who had already voted, shows Tarkanian clinging to the lead despite a Democratic registration advantage among active voters of more than 40,000 . The Review-Journal and KLAS-TV commissioned the poll by SurveyUSA.
Pollsters received responses from 648 people, some of whom had already voted and others deemed "likely voters" according to SurveyUSA. The partisan breakdown was 42 percent Democrats, 32 percent Republicans and 26 percent independent. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.9 percentage points in the poll, which was taken Oct. 26-28.
REPUBLICANS STICKING WITH TARKANIAN
Tarkanian's lead in the face of a registration disadvantage is partly a result of the Republican doing a better job with his party base than Horsford is doing with Democrats, pollster Jay Leve said.
The poll results show 92 percent of Republicans sticking with Tarkanian but only 77 percent of Democrats supporting Horsford. Tarkanian led 49-32 among independent respondents.
"What you have is much more fidelity among Republicans to the Republican than you do fidelity among Democrats to the Democrat," Leve said.
The disparity is especially glaring among female respondents. Democrats typically run strong with women but in this race break in Horsford's favor 45-41, a mere 4 -point advantage.
Among union households, another Democratic stronghold, Horsford leads Tarkanian 47-38.
"He needs to be doing much better than that in order to pull together a typical Democratic coalition that could push a Democrat to victory," Leve said.
HORSFORD LEADS WITH EARLY VOTERS
The new poll includes responses from people who already have voted, in addition to "likely voters" who the pollster thinks will turn out by Election Day. Leve also pointed out that support for incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama slipped from 52 percent to 48 percent among Congressional District 4 respondents while support for Republican Mitt Romney increased from 43 percent to 48 percent.
In the congressional race, Horsford leads 48-40 among those who already voted, in line with a Democratic push to turn out early voters. But among those yet to vote, Tarkanian leads 56-33.
"The early voters tend to be Democratic," Leve said. "(Tarkanian) needs to do better among the Election Day voters to overcome the banked lead Horsford will have."
Tim Hogan, a spokesman for Horsford, said the survey under counts Democrats the Horsford campaign is betting will propel their candidate to victory.
"We're confident that as Steven consolidates the base and Democrats turn out in high numbers that we will cross the finish line with a win," Hogan said via email. "The poll under-samples Democrats at the same time they are heading to the polls in record numbers in the district."
The Tarkanian campaign was pleased with the SurveyUSA results.
"The R-J poll verifies our strong internal poll numbers we've seen," spokesman Michael McAdams said. "We will continue to build on this momentum as we head toward Election Day."
HISPANIC, CELLPHONE FACTORS
Since the September poll, Horsford has shown significant gain among Hispanic voters, who SurveyUSA projects will be 12 percent of the electorate.
In September, Horsford had support from just 34 percent of Hispanic respondents while 42 percent favored Tarkanian.
The latest survey has Horsford gaining support from 52 percent of Hispanic voters to just 30 percent for Tarkanian.
David Damore, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political science professor, said Horsford's Hispanic support may be stronger than the poll shows.
Damore, a guest blogger for the Latino Decisions political opinion research firm, said he's seen statewide poll results showing Hispanic support for generic Democratic tickets outpacing generic Republicans by as much as 50 percentage points.
If SurveyUSA is missing Hispanic voters, they probably would be low-income, non-English speakers, he said.
"They tend to not (poll) the lower socioeconomic status vote," Damore said of pollsters. "They are all cellphone, they don't speak English, and they are overwhelmingly Democratic."
Leve said 23 percent of respondents were "not reachable on a home telephone," meaning they rely mostly or entirely on a cellphone. The other 77 percent were reached via landline.
HORSFORD HAS RECORD FOR FOE TO ATTACK
Don Mirjanian, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada, said Horsford's service in the Nevada Legislature could be making it difficult for him to gain traction against Tarkanian, who is best known as the son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
Horsford's unfavorable rating in the poll was 38 percent, up from 25 percent in September. Respondents who reported a favorable rating for Horsford fell from 33 percent to 29 percent.
Tarkanian's unfavorable rating also increased, from 21 percent to 26 percent, between the September and October polls, though respondents reporting a favorable view of Tarkanian increased from 35 percent to 37 percent.
"Another factor that could be in play here is Horsford has sort of a legislative record to attack whereas Tarkanian doesn't," Mirjanian said. "Sometimes a legislative record puts you on the defensive, and responding to that is tough."
Horsford, the Senate majority leader for two legislative sessions, was widely criticized for accepting a travel junket to the Bahamas from PokerStars, an Internet poker company that had business before the Legislature. Horsford repaid the cost of the trip once it became the subject of controversy.
Horsford also was criticized for a fundraising plan that offered access to legislators based on contribution amounts, which he abandoned after it became public.
The Horsford controversies have been the subject of Republican attack ads in heavy rotation on television and through mailers.
"That may be hard to overcome," Mirjanian said of the attacks.
LEAD 'NOT INSURMOUNTABLE'
Tarkanian has never held public office, although he ran and lost three previous races.
Democrats have attacked Tarkanian for his role in a real estate deal gone bad that resulted in a $17 million judgment against his family. Responses to the poll, however, suggest the attacks against Tarkanian aren't sticking.
Still, with a major Democratic registration advantage, a strong voter turnout operation could be enough to push Horsford into office.
"That final week in the election is the strongest push," Mirjanian said. "A 5-point lead is not insurmountable, especially with a higher margin for error."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285 .