Republican Sue Lowden would defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Harry Reid by 6 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup, according to a poll of likely Nevada voters.
Unfortunately for Reid-bashers, Lowden isn't running -- at least not yet.
On Monday, Lowden supporters, including political strategist Robert Uithoven, disclosed the results of a poll commissioned as part of an effort to persuade the Nevada Republican Party chairwoman to run, especially if Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., decides not to challenge Reid.
The poll by Denver-based Vitale & Associates was conducted July 29-30 and showed that 48 percent of respondents favored Lowden to 42 percent for Reid. Ten percent were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Of the 510 poll respondents, 44 percent identified themselves as Democrats, 38 percent as Republicans, 15 percent as independent or non-partisan, and 3 percent declined to state an affiliation.
The findings reaffirm the notion that Reid is in trouble in his home state, despite expectations that he will raise as much as $25 million to maintain his grip on the seat, said those behind the poll.
"Sue would have plenty of money to win this race," Uithoven said. "She doesn't have $25 million, but she wouldn't need it."
Pollster Todd Vitale said the most telling numbers might be the ones related to Reid.
In three Reid-related categories -- image, approval and whether they would vote to re-elect -- respondents gave the senator a thumbs down. Just 39 percent viewed Reid favorably, and 34 percent said they would vote to re-elect him.
"All of those are very, very telling pieces of information," said Vitale, who has been a pollster for 15 years. "I've never seen an incumbent with numbers this bad who hadn't had some scandal."
Uithoven said the fact Reid would need to raise $25 million to hold the seat in a state where he is a familiar presence is evidence of political vulnerability, not strength.
He also said Reid's position of majority leader makes it easier for opponents to paint him as a career politician who is out of touch with Nevadans.
That's not how Brandon Hall, Reid's campaign manager, sees it. Hall said that as recently as this week, with the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 in Las Vegas, Reid is demonstrating how he uses his position in Washington to benefit Nevada residents. The summit focused on the potential for energy upgrades to improve the economy.
"It highlights the potential Nevada has to be a leading producer of clean energy and create thousands of jobs right here in Nevada," Hall said of the event, which featured former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and current Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Hall also said that even though Lowden supporters have produced a poll, they haven't produced her as a candidate. And even if Lowden gets into the race, Hall said, she would need to defeat a field of Republicans to get to the general campaign.
The Republican contenders include Las Vegas real estate professional Danny Tarkanian, son of former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian; former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle; attorney and former Marine Chuck Kozak; and investment banker John Chachas.
"Senator Reid doesn't put a lot of weight in polls," Hall said. "The only number he is focused on right now is Nevada's unemployment number."
The unemployment figure of more than 12 percent is likely contributing to Reid's low approval rating. The poll showed the economy was respondents' greatest concern. "We've been going through a really tough recession that has hit Nevada really hard, and that is having an effect on how people view their leaders," Hall said.
Other highlights of the poll results included a near dead heat in terms of generic party preference for the Senate seat Reid holds. The poll showed that 38 percent of respondents favored a Republican in the seat and 39 percent a Democrat.
The poll also referenced Sen. John Ensign, a Republican caught up in a scandal over an extramarital affair.
The poll showed that 40 percent of respondents had a favorable view of Ensign, 46 percent an unfavorable view, and 9 percent had no opinion.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.