Poll: Reid can’t gain ground on Sandoval

On the campaign trail Rory Reid touts plans to improve the economy, fix the schools and balance Nevada’s upside down budget.

But he hasn’t yet unlocked a formula for the most vexing problem his campaign faces — closing ground on opponent Brian Sandoval.

A new poll by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow shows the Republican Sandoval ahead of the Democrat Reid 53 to 31 percent among likely voters.

The 22 percentage-point margin is five points wider than results of a similar poll two weeks ago — although a compilation of all public polls taken in the race shows a margin of about 14 points in Sandoval’s favor.

Still, the latest results suggest more than two months Reid has spent criticizing Sandoval on television, the Web and in personal appearances while touting his own credentials hasn’t improved the Democrat’s standing with the electorate.

With Election Day a little more than two months away and the first proper debate scheduled for Sunday night, the deficit means Reid is under the gun to gain ground fast.

“Reid does not have a lot of time to turn this thing around,” said Jennifer Duffy, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “The fact that he is just over 30, that Sandoval is over 50, there is not any good news in this poll for Rory Reid.”

As problematic for Reid as the horse race results are the candidates’ favorable and unfavorable profiles in the survey responses.

When asked about Sandoval, a former federal judge and state attorney general, 48 percent of respondents had a favorable impression, 17 percent had an unfavorable impression, 31 percent were neutral and 4 percent didn’t recognize him.

Those numbers haven’t changed much despite Reid’s repeated claims Sandoval is a flip-flopper on immigration issues and planning to lay off as many as 5,000 teachers to balance the budget, charges Sandoval denies.

Conversely Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission, was recognized favorably by just 27 percent of respondents, unfavorably by 43 percent, neutral by 26 percent and unrecognized by 4 percent.

That’s despite campaigning around the state, taking pains to meet with countless small groups of voters and using a extensive contributions to build a robust campaign organization.

Reid is still behind Sandoval in every category except among Democrats, and even there he lost ground since the last poll.

“Reid just isn’t getting any traction anywhere,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, who conducted the poll.

The latest Mason-Dixon poll of 625 Nevadans has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It is the third Mason-Dixon poll in a month, with Sandoval’s lead growing from 11 to 16 to 22.

The poll included responses from 267 Democrats, 251 Republicans and 107 independents, reflecting the registration breakdown in the state. It was also weighted to reflect population distribution, with more respondents from Clark County than from Washoe and the rural counties.

A broader selection of polls compiled by the website Real Clear Politics shows Sandoval leading by an average margin of 14 percentage points in the six surveys taken since July 16. The average doesn’t include the latest results.

Numbers among sub-groups — except Democrats — in the Mason-Dixon poll aren’t any better for Reid than the overall results.

Although the sub-group results have higher margins-for-error than top-line results, they show Reid’s campaign needs to do better with every group tested.

Among men Sandoval leads 61-23, among women 46-38 and among independents 55-22.

In Clark County, Reid’s home turf and an area he has to win by a large margin to have a chance to become the next governor, Sandoval leads 49-33.

“What it means is the attacks on Sandoval have not stuck. It almost insinuates the attacks have had a negative effect,” said Ryan Erwin, a Republican political consultant who isn’t involved in the gubernatorial race.

Erwin and others say it means Sandoval would be best served to stay positive and avoid making mistakes, starting with the debate scheduled Sunday.

“What you don’t want to do is get into a fight,” Erwin said. “He has to be prepared, he has to be articulate, he has to be gubernatorial.”

Given the stakes, Reid will almost certainly attempt to goad Sandoval into a fight Sunday.

On Thursday Reid released a plan to balance the state budget without raising taxes. He has criticized Sandoval for failing to propose a plan of his own, although Sandoval spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner says one is in the works.

One problem for Reid, however, is that the two candidates are fairly similar in terms of policy rhetoric, despite the plans Reid’s campaign has released, including a budget balancing plan on Thursday.

Each promises to balance the budget without a tax increase of any kind, a feat budget experts have said is unlikely.

Both candidates have also called for improving schools by reducing centralized bureaucracy and increasing flexibility and accountability for individual teachers and principals.

“There is only so much you can do if your claim is you aren’t going to raise taxes,” said David Damore, a political science professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Reid has to get people to change their mind about him, at this point that is tough to do.”

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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