Nevadans say they’re ready to replace longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Harry Reid with an untested Republican.
Which Republican? Undecided.
But of their top two picks — former GOP party official Sue Lowden and real estate developer Danny Tarkanian — either one would unseat Reid if the election were held today, according to a poll commissioned by the Review-Journal.
Lowden and Tarkanian are in a statistical tie atop a list of nine primary candidates, according to the survey of Nevada registered voters.
The poll by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. shows 23 percent of Republicans favored Lowden to 21 percent for Tarkanian with 44 percent undecided.
"That’s a lot of voters sitting on the fence," said Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon managing partner.
Former assemblywoman Sharron Angle came in third among primary candidates at 9 percent; six others had 1 percent or less.
Though respondents can’t decide whom they want to win the Republican primary, they’re certain they don’t support Reid, the Senate majority leader seeking his fifth consecutive six-year term.
In one general election scenario, 49 percent of respondents picked Lowden and 39 percent chose Reid. In another, 48 percent picked Tarkanian to 43 percent for Reid. That poll, which surveyed 500 voters Tuesday through Thursday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
In Clark County, where Reid needs to dominate to win another term, he is in a statistical tie with either Lowden or Tarkanian.
"That is the bad news," UNLV political science professor David Damore said of Reid’s Clark County numbers. "That tells you there is a disaffected base there."
For months the perception of Reid among voters has been fixed, with near 100 percent name recognition and a high number of voters viewing him unfavorably. In the latest poll, 38 percent of voters viewed Reid favorably compared to 50 percent with an unfavorable view.
That’s virtually unchanged from a similar poll in August.
In contrast, 31 percent had a favorable view of Lowden and 15 percent unfavorable; 25 percent didn’t recognize her.
For Tarkanian, 30 percent of respondents had a favorable view and 11 percent unfavorable; 19 percent didn’t recognize him.
"Reid needs to be a little bit less worried about his opposition right now and work to shore himself up," said Jennifer Duffy with the Cook Political Report.
Party affiliation breakdown in the poll was reflective of state registration figures, with 44 percent Democrats, 36 percent Republicans and 20 percent independents. Questions about the Republican primary were limited to a sampling of 300 Republicans. Those results have a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.
Representatives of the candidates took the poll results with a grain of salt.
"Senator Reid has never put much stock in polls. The Republican candidates in this race are still supporting many of the policies that got us into the mess that Senator Reid is working every day to get us out of," said Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall. "As the election draws closer and voters are presented with a choice between moving our economy forward and the status quo, we are confident that Senator Reid’s vision of moving forward will prevail."
Tarkanian consultant Jamie Fisfis said he thinks Tarkanian is leading Lowden.
"They don’t jibe for me," he said of the Mason-Dixon results depicting a statistical tie in the primary. "Lowden has received a small announcement bump, but we have maintained our lead."
Fisfis said the campaign took an automated poll of more than 1,100 people while the Mason-Dixon pollsters were also making calls.
That poll didn’t include as many candidates and showed Tarkanian leading Lowden by 8 percentage points, Fisfis said.
Lowden consultant Robert Uithoven says the Lowden campaign hasn’t polled since August, but was pleased with the Mason-Dixon results.
Lowden didn’t officially announce her candidacy until Oct. 1, but has been expected to run since the summer and was included in an August Mason-Dixon poll.
"Considering that Sue Lowden has only been in the race for a week these numbers are encouraging," Uithoven said. "Poll numbers are always great, but at the end they have got to show up by way of votes."
Uithoven acknowledged that with Reid poised to raise as much as $25 million to hold his seat, it is unlikely Lowden will retain 18 percent of Democrats who chose her over Reid.
With more than eight months to go before the Republican primary, there’s still time for lesser-known candidates to gain some ground.
Investment banker John Chachas, an Ely native who has spent his adult life in New York, has contributed $1 million of his own money to a $1.4 million campaign.
"I’m paying my own freight here," said Chachas, who has yet to register to vote in Nevada. "I’m not using donor money to pay for my staff."
He’s banking that his financial experience can help him show voters he has a better grasp of economic problems facing the nation than do leading Republicans.
"The discussion of how you fix the Nevada economy is how you fix the national economy," he said.
Wellington physician Robin Titus hopes she can leverage medical expertise to raise her profile among voters concerned about health care.
Titus, a Nevadan with family roots in Smith Valley dating to the 1880s, runs a general practice and still makes house calls for rural customers.
She believes in charging patients on a sliding scale based on their ability to pay. But she also said patients should pay something for health care so they realize its value, and should have more control over their treatment.
"A one-size-fits-everybody approach does not work in health care," Titus said.
She doesn’t trust Reid to deliver health reform that conforms to values such as her own.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.