RENO — A new poll shows Nevada is a true tossup in the presidential race.
Democrat Barack Obama had 44 percent and Republican John McCain 43 percent in the poll conducted for the Reno Gazette-Journal and KTVN Channel 2 in Reno. That’s a statistical dead heat with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The survey of 600 likely Nevada voters was conducted Aug. 18-20 by the Maryland-based Research 2000.
It suggests what Washoe County Democrats have been saying for months — that Northern Nevada could decide the race. McCain had a 1-point lead in Washoe County. Obama was leading by 7 points in Clark County.
The poll also found a significant gender gap in Nevada. Among men, McCain leads 49 percent to 38 percent. Among women, Obama is up 50 percent to 37 percent.
Among others in the poll, 3 percent favored Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, and 2 percent favored independent Ralph Nader. Two percent supported other candidates, and 6 percent remained undecided.
Political observers on both sides attributed the inability of either candidate to establish an early lead in Nevada so far to a lack of voter engagement, a situation expected to change in coming days as both parties near their national conventions.
“The base on both sides is locked in, and I think will come home to them,” pollster Del Ali said. “This will really be determined by the independents, who really aren’t paying too much attention right now.”
Washoe County is of particular interest.
“That county, each cycle, is becoming more and more purple,” Ali said, referring to the color political observers traditionally assign to swing areas. “When I started polling Nevada, that was a pretty solidly conservative county. The fact that it is tied now means it is a true swing county.”
McCain is leading by 13 points among independent voters, a constituency both campaigns are struggling to woo. But the fact McCain hasn’t pulled ahead in Washoe County has some Republicans worried.
“I think the independents will decide the race, as they often do,” said Robert Uithoven, a Republican consultant and a McCain supporter. “The Washoe numbers need to improve for Senator McCain. But there’s plenty of time for that to take place.”
Obama has a strong lead among women and Latinos, despite a focused effort by the McCain campaign to make inroads with those voters.