Shelley Berkley (D): 43 (38)
Dean Heller (R): 47 (51)
Undecided: 10 (11)
Byron Georgiou (D): 28
Dean Heller (R): 52
Rep. Shelley Berkley’s favorables have barely budged, and this poll’s partisan composition is little changed from January’s. So what explains the swift tightening here? It turns out that Dean Heller is actually a Republican elected official, and, well, Democrats don’t really like Republicans – once they know who they are:
The main thing fueling Berkley’s gain is that Democratic voters have soured on Heller since he launched his Senate campaign, significantly cutting into his crossover support. In January Heller posted a pretty decent 22/31 favorability spread with Democrats, allowing him a 46/23 breakdown overall. Now just 16% of Democrats express a positive view of him and 48% have a negative one. That’s caused his net favorability to drop 9 points from +23 to now +14 at 43/29.
Given that Democratic voters don’t like him as much anymore it’s no surprise that they’re also not as inclined to vote for Heller as they were earlier this year. In January Berkley had only a 44 point lead over Heller with Democratic voters at 64-20. Now it’s a 63 point lead at 76-13 and that 19 point shift in her direction within her own party is the main reason she now has the race within the margin of error.
This trend is only going to get worse for Heller, not better, as he’ll soon soar to prominence once Gov. Brian Sandoval taps him to replace John Ensign. Meanwhile, Berkley actually has a lot more upside among members of her own party than Heller has with his. Dems like Berkley by a 59-9 margin while Republicans adore Heller at a 74-10 rate. This translates to Heller winning 86% of Republicans while Berkley takes just 76% of Democrats – but it’s almost a guarantee that Berkley’s numbers with Dems will improve. Harry Reid got 91% of Ds against Sharron Angle last year and even Jack Carter got 81% in 2006. And trust me: Shelley Berkley’s no Jack Carter.
Oh, and speaking of that pending appoinment for Heller, Tom Jensen threw in an extra question about whether Nevadans are happy with the prospect of Sandoval naming a replacement, or whether they’d prefer to vote on the choice. Respondents chose “vote” by a 53-44 margin. At the end of the day, I don’t know how much people really care about this sort of thing, but perhaps Democrats will be able to make some hay out of Heller getting skipped to the head of the class. At the very least, it’ll paint a big target on his back, and I’m not sure I’d necessarily want the supposed advantages of incumbency in a race like this – not when greater prominence seems to be translating into crappier performance at the polls.