In another tea leaf for the upcoming Nevada Senate campaign, a poll released today shows Rep. Dean Heller beating Sen. John Ensign handily in a head-to-head matchup in a Republican primary.
"If Heller were the sole challenger to Ensign in a primary right now, he would soundly defeat the incumbent, 52-34," Public Policy Polling, a Democrat-leaning firm from North Carolina, said in its analysis.
Heller has been mentioned most prominently as a potential in-party challenger to Ensign, once a national GOP up-and- comer who has been in Nevada headlines since June 2009 more for acknowledging having an extramarital affair and being the subject of associated ethics and criminal investigations.
Ensign has denied any wrongdoing. Investigations by the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission were dropped this fall, while a probe by the Senate Ethics Committee is ongoing.
The poll shows a majority of Nevada Republicans still like Ensign’s job performance, with a 53 percent thumbs up and a 30 percent thumbs down. But only 42 percent think he should run again while 41 percent say he should step aside. Seventeen percent were not sure what he should do.
"There’s an increasing sense even with GOP voters who are happy with his job performance that the party needs a different candidate next year," pollster Tom Jensen said.
In a crowded Republican primary field, Heller prevails with 30 percent, while Ensign has 20 percent, according to the poll. Sue Lowden would have 12 percent, Danny Tarkanian 10 percent, Sharron Angle 9 percent, Brian Krolicki 6 percent and John Chachas 5 percent.
The numbers come on the heels of poll results last week, also from Public Policy Polling, showing that Ensign trails every Nevada Democrat who might get into the race.