Ensign Still Not in the Clear in Nevada
by Jonathan Singer, Wed May 24, 2006 at 01:41:36 PM EDT
At this point, few of the top pundits see the Nevada Senate race as competitive or even potentially competitive. Currently, the Cook Political Report (.pdf) rates the race "safe Republican" and Chuck Todd calls Nevada the 17th most competitive Senate race this year -- behind even Florida, where Democrat Bill Nelson is just crushing the train wreck that is Katherine Harris.
It's fairly clear that the Nevada Senate race is not yet competitive; Ensign holds a massive fundraising lead over his Democratic challenger Jack Carter, and most polling from the race shows Ensign with a lead in the double digits. Nevertheless, these numbers don't paint the entire picture of this race.
Let's start with Ensign's numbers. According to the latest polling from SurveyUSA, Ensign's approval rating is not great -- but not terrible, either -- with 50 percent of Nevadans approving and 37 percent disapproving. Looking at the trend for these numbers, however, one notices that Ensign's disapproval rating is up 5 points since February, an increase that has been driven more by Independents (disapproval up 7 points) and Republicans (disapproval up 6 points) than by Democrats (disapproval up only 2 points). In fact, if Nevada Democrats were a little less approving of Ensign (currently 42 percent of party members in the state approve of the conservative Senator), Ensign's numbers would surely be much lower -- perhaps even in the net negative territory.
Just as Ensign's net approval ratings have been diminishing in recent months, so too has his lead over Carter, the son of the 39th President. A poll commissioned last month by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed Ensign with a seemingly insurmountable 60 percent to 27 percent lead over Carter. But just a few short weeks later, a seperate poll from the Reno Gazette-Journal shows Ensign's lead to be more than a dozen points smaller at 52 percent to 32 percent.
While the Nevada Senate race might not be competitive yet today, it's becoming more and more clear that there is a possibility that it will become competitive before the election season is out. Sure, Carter -- who has been doing a great job of reaching out to the netroots with the help of his daughter Sarah and who spoke with MyDD just last month -- needs to do a better job of introducing himself to Nevadans, and particularly Nevada's Democrats. What's more, Carter needs to bulk up his fundraising numbers soon. (You can help by visiting his website.)
That all said, the numbers from this race don't lie; Ensign isn't the most popular politician these days, and if a Democratic candidate can whip party members into line by election day, Harry Reid just might have another Democratic vote as he seeks to become Senate Majority Leader in January.