Message to Nevada's Hispanic voters: Your inbox, mailbox and television set will be inundated with a deluge of political advertisements between now and Nov. 6, much of it with "Berkley" or "Heller" on the return address.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee commissioned a poll last week that showed Rep. Shelley Berkley and her Republican opponent, Sen. Dean Heller, in a virtual dead heat in their Senate race.
The poll, which was conducted by Garin-Hart Yang Research Group and surveyed more than 600 Nevada voters Aug 13-15, showed each candidate garnering 41 percent of the vote, with another 3 percent leaning more toward Berkley than other candidates, an extra 1 percent leaning more toward Heller than other candidates and a combined 14 percent either undecided or in the "other" category.
Hidden deeper in the results, Berkley, as previous polls have shown, is not doing as well among Hispanic voters as President Barack Obama. Conversely, Heller is polling better among Hispanics than presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
A June survey by polling firm Latino Decisions showed Obama with 69 percent of Nevada's Hispanic vote compared with Romney's 20 percent. Berkley, at that time, had the support of 53 percent of Hispanic to Heller's 30 percent. The Garin-Hart Yang poll last week had a small sample size of Hispanic voters and had a margin of error of 11 percent, but it showed Berkley leading Heller among Hispanic voters 46 percent to 24 percent.
With fewer than 80 days until the election, which way undecided Hispanics swing could play a large role in deciding the Senate race.
"The difference between the presidential race and the Senate race among Latinos is that Latino voters in Nevada are much less likely to be familiar with the Senate candidates: 48 percent have no clear feeling toward Congresswoman Berkley, and 53 percent have no clear feeling toward Sen. Heller," Geoff Garin, president of Garin-Hart Yang Research Group, said in an email.
Both sides have made a concerted effort to get their message to Hispanic voters, a growing population that makes up approximately 15 percent of the Nevada electorate. Both Heller and Berkley offer Spanish-language campaign materials, have put together coalitions of Hispanic supporters and have produced Spanish-language campaign ads.
The Juntos con Heller coalition, "with 125 co-chairs, is the biggest and most aggressive Hispanic coalition of any Nevada Republican campaign in memory," Heller campaign spokeswoman Chandler Smith said. "It is made up of small-business folks and hard-working Nevadans, not a handful of politicians."
In the past few weeks, those efforts have only expanded.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American, made several campaign stops with Heller last week and drove home the broader importance of the race.
"If Dean Heller is not re-elected, we can't be the majority," Rubio said during an Aug. 16 stop at a Reno Brewery. "So, in many ways, Nevadans aren't just deciding who their next senator is going to be, they're deciding who the next majority leader is going to be."
Not to be outdone, Berkley had Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., in town the week prior to make calls and campaign stops with her. Gutierrez, who is one of the champions of the Dream Act in Congress and was arrested twice for protesting the Obama administration's record number of deportations in front of the White House, said Nevadans needed to learn more about Berkley, who has never run in a statewide race. Particularly, Gutierrez pointed to Berkley's vote for the Dream Act in contrast to Heller's stated opposition to the program, which is popular among Hispanics.
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