Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Heck has a 13-point lead over his
Democratic challenger, Nevada Assembly Speaker John Oceguera,
according to a new poll released five weeks before early voting
begins in Nevada.
Heck leads Oceguera 53 percent to 40 percent, the survey commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow shows, thanks to the incumbent's double-digit advantage among seniors, men and white voters.
Heck also leads Oceguera among swing independent voters in the 3rd Congressional District, the state's most competitive because it is evenly divided between registered Republicans and Democrats.
At this point in the campaign, Oceguera's only edge over Heck is with African-Americans (66-17) and Hispanics (52-41), reliable minority voters for Democrats. Oceguera also is close behind Heck among women (49-43). Overall, the poll shows the state lawmaker simply is not as well known or as well liked as Heck.
"Heck has the advantage of in-cumbency," said pollster Jay Leve of Survey-USA, which conducted the poll. "His coalition of males and whites and seniors is strong. And that's a tough coalition for any challenger to overcome."
Early voting begins Oct. 20, a Saturday, and continues for two weeks ahead of Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The Oceguera campaign is confident it can close the gap by Election Day with help from aggressive TV ads that focus on Heck's record, including on women's issues, Medicare and Social Security. The campaign will get help from national Democratic groups as well as President Barack Obama's get-out-the-vote effort.
"The only thing this poll shows is that Joe Heck's efforts to send slick campaignlike mailers on the taxpayers' dime to build his name identification worked," Oceguera campaign manager Adam Weiss said. "This race is just heating up, and as Nevadans tune in and learn Heck has been waging a war on the health and safety of women, working to end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher program, and calling Social Security a 'pyramid scheme' - they're turned off and are ready to send him packing."
Ryan Erwin, Heck's top campaign adviser, said the freshman congressman's popularity among most voting groups will make it difficult for Oceguera to catch him by Election Day.
"Every survey we've seen, public and private, shows that Joe is well-liked and this strength is going to be hard to erode," said Erwin, who said he doubts Obama's coattails will help Oceguera. "Democrats are enthused, but nowhere near 2008 levels. A lot of people have decided not to vote for Barack Obama."
Former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., won the 3rd Congressional District in 2008 thanks to the Obama ticket lift. In 2010, she barely lost re-election to Heck by 1,922 votes. The district outlines have changed this year because of re-districting, but the House seat remains as competitive as ever.
So far, Oceguera's campaign has run only one biographical TV ad showing him on the job as a North Las Vegas assistant fire chief, although he's now retired. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched an ad this week accusing Heck of voting against a preventative cancer vaccine for women.
Heck, too, has run a biographical ad, showing his work as an emergency room physician and his service in the U.S. Army Reserves, including in Iraq. He also recently put up an ad with his father, saying he wants to preserve Medicare, not kill it as Democrats claim, by reforming the program for future retirees.
The poll shows Nevada voters trust Heck more than Oceguera on Medicare, 49 percent to 36 percent.
Heck also is far more popular: 45 percent of those surveyed have a favorable opinion of him, compared to 23 percent unfavorable, 23 percent neutral and 9 percent with no opinion.
In comparison, 29 percent have a favorable view of Oceguera, 20 percent unfavorable, 28 percent neutral and 23 percent had no opinion. Although Oceguera served 12 years in the Assembly, the survey suggests that only half of voters in the district know him, making it more difficult to challenge Heck.
The tale of the tape shows why:
Among whites, Heck leads Oceguera 58 percent to 36 percent.
Among men, Heck leads Oceguera 57 percent to 37 percent.
Among those 65 and older, Heck leads Oceguera 58 percent to 37 percent.
Among independents, Heck leads Oceguera 48 percent to 30 percent.
Heck also has a money advantage, according to finance reports filed at the end of June. Heck had $1.3 million cash on hand after raising $1.8 million. Oceguera had $624,088 cash on hand after raising $925,578.
The telephone survey of 663 likely voters was taken Monday through Wednesday and included automated calls to land lines (75 percent of respondents) and live interviews with cellphone users (25 percent of respondents). The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Those surveyed included 14 percent Hispanic, which is close to the Latino population in the district and the make-up of the electorate in 2008 and 2010, or about 15 percent.
The poll under-sampled Democrats and over-sampled independents, however. Democrats make up 38 percent of the district, but 32 percent of those surveyed. Independents and third parties make up 24 percent of the district, but 31 percent of those surveyed. Republicans make up 38 percent of the district and 37 percent of the survey.
The pollster, Leve, said if the survey results were weighted to reflect actual party ID in the district, Heck's lead could shrink to 11 points from 13 points.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.
If the election for Nevada's 3rd Congressional District were today, who would you vote for?
Joe Heck (R) 53%
John Oceguera (D) 40%
COMPLETE POLL RESULTS AT LVRJ.COM/POLLS
What one issue should your congressman focus on ahead of all others?
Federal debt 13
Health care 11
Taxes 6 Immigration 2 Housing 2
Who will do more to protect Medicare?
Joe Heck (R) 49%
John Oceguera (D) 36
Not sure 15
Who is more in touch with the average working person?
Joe Heck (R) 49%
John Oceguera (D) 38
Not sure 13
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