Former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus appears to have a big head start in her congressional race against state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, enjoying a seven to one advantage among likely Democratic primary voters, according to a new poll her campaign released Monday.
Seven months before the June 12 primary, the survey is a measure of how well known Titus is in Southern Nevada compared with Kihuen and how deep her support is among Democratic groups. The race is sure to tighten after the candidates begin campaigning in earnest next spring.
If the election were held now, 77 percent of those polled said they would vote for Titus compared with 11 percent for Kihuen, who’s seeking to become Nevada’s first Hispanic congressman.
LATINOS FAVOR TITUS IN POLL
Titus holds a big lead at this point among Latinos : 64 percent to 22 percent for Kihuen, according to the poll. She also outpaces Kihuen in his own Senate district, 82 percent to 6 percent.
"This race is far from over, but we feel these numbers are a great start after Dina announced her candidacy," Titus’ campaign manager Jay Gertsema said in a statement.
Kihuen’s campaign manager Dan Chavez dismissed the early poll as "irrelevant." He noted U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., was lesser known than Titus, too, yet defeated her in the 2010 election.
"Dina has spent millions building her name ID over the past two decades," Chavez said. "Ruben has never lost an election in this district and has proven that he can defeat well-financed candidates."
Titus, 61, was a state senator for 20 years and minority leader before winning a House seat in 2008. She represented the 3rd Congressional District, where Democrats hold a small voter registration edge. Heck barely defeated her in the district .
Kihuen, 31, is a freshman senator midway through his four-year term. He previously served four years in the Assembly. He has the vocal backing of activist leaders in the Hispanic community in Las Vegas, yet he isn’t widely known outside his district and political circles.
Titus and Kihuen are competing to represent U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley’s 1st Congressional District. Berkley, D-Nev., is running for the Senate against U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
DISTRICT 36.6 PERCENT LATINO
The newly redrawn urban Las Vegas district has a healthy Latino population with 36.6 percent of voting age. Democrats hold a big registration advantage, 52 percent to 25 percent GOP. The Democratic primary winner is a good bet to beat any Republican in the November general election.
Dan Hart, a Democratic operative not associated with either campaign, said the poll results are surely better than the Titus camp had hoped for given the wide margin and the strong positive ratings. Yet, the survey mostly reflects Titus’ high name recognition, 94 percent, according to the poll. The Titus campaign did not release name recognition figures for Kihuen.
"This sort of marks the beginning of the race and shows that Dina has some deep roots among voters in the district and Ruben has a lot of work to do," Hart said, adding he expects the race to become far more competitive. "I think they’re each going to have significant support."
The telephone survey by Anzalone Liszt Research interviewed 400 likely Democratic primary voters between Nov. 9 and Nov. 13. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The survey included 96 Latinos, or 24 percent of those polled.
TITUS’ APPROVAL RATING HIGH
Titus has a high approval rating among the likely primary voters with 81 percent giving her a favorable rating and 13 percent unfavorable. Those surveyed also thought she did a good job in Congress, with 77 percent approving and 12 percent disapproving of her performance.
Latino Democrats gave Titus good ratings, too, with 78 percent having a favorable impression of her and 12 percent unfavorable. Some 67 percent of Hispanics approved of the job she did in Congress compared with 12 percent who disapproved, which could provide a possible opening for Kihuen.
Kihuen and his Latino supporters have accused Titus of not doing enough in Washington to press for comprehensive immigration reform and for passage of the DREAM Act. It would give young illegal immigrants a chance to gain legal status if they joined the military or attended college.
Titus has rejected the criticism, saying she publicly pushed hard for the DREAM Act and other measures to help Hispanics. In Washington, Titus also was a reliable vote for President Barack Obama’s agenda, backing health care reform and stimulus spending to boost the economy, for example.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.