The closing stretch looks a lot like the opening turn in the race for Nevada governor, with Republican Brian Sandoval holding a big lead over Democrat Rory Reid.
Sandoval leads Reid by 16 percentage points with just three days until Election Day, a change of just 1 percentage point since a poll taken in October 2009, when Sandoval launched his campaign.
The latest Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll of 625 Nevada voters showed 54 percent preferred Sandoval, a former federal judge, to 38 percent who chose Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission and son of U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“Every number breaks against Reid,” said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at University of Nevada, Reno. “You can’t win with a number profile like that.”
The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. Results included responses from people who already cast ballots at early voting locations and people who are likely to vote. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Sandoval leads Reid in every category listed except Democrats, even in Clark County where Reid needs a big advantage to counter Sandoval’s popularity in the northern part of the state.
Sandoval, 47, led among Washoe County respondents 55 to 36 percent, among Clark County respondents 51 to 41 and among independents statewide 61 to 29.
Sandoval’s 90 to 5 percent advantage among Republicans was also stronger than Reid’s 74 to 16 percent advantage among Democrats.
The results from Mason-Dixon depict a race slightly narrower than a compilation of polls posted on the Real Clear Politics website that show an average margin of 18.2 percentage points for Sandoval. Results vary from one poll to another, but none show Sandoval with less than an 11 percentage point lead.
Reid, who raised $6.3 million during the course of the campaign compared to Sandoval’s $4.2 million, is counting on high Democratic turnout to pull off an upset.
“I’ve worked as hard as I could,” Reid, 47, said of the campaign. “And I’ve spent every moment trying to communicate with as many people as possible.”
On Thursday evening, the Democrat walked door-to-door with Assembly candidate Lucy Flores in a working class neighborhood on the east side of Las Vegas. He explained to voters that a Sandoval ad accusing him of missing 140 County Commission votes failed to say that there were more than 3,000 agenda items for consideration on those occasions but only one of the missed votes could have changed a final outcome.
“I knew there was more to it than that,” Mark Gibrick, 67, said after Reid met him and his son, Anthony, 24.
“That’s at least two votes you’re going to get,” the elder Gibrick told Reid.
Reid was in good spirits during the walk, chatting with voters in English and Spanish and joking with volunteers.
He says internal campaign polls show the race closer than public polls, and that he remains determined to press his case through Election Day.
“Now the polls and the pundits don’t matter,” Reid said. “People are voting.”
Observers of Nevada politics, however, say it would take a shocking turn of events for Reid to close the gap.
“At this point it seems like it is a foregone conclusion,” said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “You can close a 5 point gap with a good turnout, but a 16 point gap is just too much.”
For his part, Sandoval appears content to sit on his lead.
The Republican from Reno debated Reid three times in October but isn’t planning many public appearances in the final days. The only big event on his public schedule is today’s Nevada Day parade in Carson City, though his spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner, said he will visit schools and businesses and walk precincts in the Reno area before Election Day.
“Brian is encouraged by the response he has received (from) voters across the state but obviously there remains work to be done,” Kinner said.
Sandoval has also updated his advertising with a television spot that seeks to burnish his positive image with voters.
According to Mason-Dixon responses, 56 percent of likely voters have a favorable impression of Sandoval and 23 percent unfavorable.
Only 35 percent had a favorable impression of Reid; 49 percent viewed him unfavorably.
Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon, said Reid’s favorable-unfavorable numbers have remained in negative territory largely for reasons beyond his control.
Reid’s father is viewed negatively by more than half of likely voters, and there appears to be resistance by the electorate to the notion they should vote for a father and son on the same ticket.
“You just can’t change numbers when you walk in the door with that hanging around your neck,” Coker said.
Sandoval’s emergence as a candidate nine months after Reid started campaigning also worked against the Democrat.
Had Sandoval remained in his job as a federal judge in Reno, Reid likely would have faced unpopular incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons in the general election.
Instead, he drew Sandoval, who has a strong resume that includes stints as an assemblyman, attorney general, gaming commission chairman and as a federal judge who ascended to the bench with support from Sen. Reid.
If he wins, Sandoval will also be Nevada’s first Hispanic governor.
Sandoval’s experience and scandal-free background didn’t give Reid much material for effective criticism.
“They haven’t dug up anything on him and he hasn’t said anything to get himself in trouble,” Damore said.
In the closing weeks Reid has criticized Sandoval for failing to release a promised detailed plan to balance the state’s 2011-13 budget, which projections suggest could be as much as $3 billion in the red. Sandoval has deflected the attacks by criticizing Reid’s budget plan, which analysts have said includes at least $615 million in revenue that is unlikely to materialize.
“That caused him a credibility gap,” Herzik said of holes in Reid’s plan. “Then he’s left railing against Sandoval for not being more specific. But being specific actually kind of hurt Rory Reid.”
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.