Endangered Republican Sen. Dean Heller holds only a slight edge over Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen in a Nevada Senate race that Democrats see as one of their best chances to flip a Senate seat.
Heller leads Rosen by only 2 percentage points among likely voters, according to a new NBC News/Marist College poll released Tuesday. The survey shows Heller garnering 46 percent of support from Nevada voters, while Rosen has backing from 44 percent, within the 5.5 percent margin of error.
The Nevada contest is one of the most important in a year when Republicans will keep their Senate majority if they stop Democrats from gaining two seats in the chamber. Health care has ranked as the top issue in Nevada for most of the campaign. But Brett Kavanaugh, who became a Supreme Court justice on Saturday despite facing several sexual misconduct accusations, has divided the candidates most sharply in recent days.
Heller voted for Kavanaugh's confirmation, while Rosen denounced it. Before the confirmation, Heller drew national media attention when he said the first assault allegation against President Donald Trump's nominee would just be a "hiccup" in his rise to the court. Rosen ran digital ads attacking the senator for his support of Kavanaugh.
Voters remain largely divided on the issue, and it's unclear now how much Kavanaugh's confirmation will affect the race's outcome. The poll shows that 41 percent of likely voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposed Kavanaugh versus 38 percent who would rather back a candidate who supported the justice. Eighteen percent say the Kavanaugh confirmation will have no impact on their decision.
Heller leads Rosen among likely Republican voters by 90 percent to 5 percent, men by 54 percent to 38 percent, white voters by 48 percent to 44 percent and independents by 42 percent to 39 percent. Rosen, meanwhile, has advantages among Democrats by 89 percent to 8 percent, Latino voters at 54 percent to 38 percent and women by 50 percent to 39 percent.
While Nevada voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 2 percentage points, it has not had a Democratic governor since 1999. The Kavanaugh issue might not measurably change voter turnout for either party's base.
In the gubernatorial contest, Republican Adam Laxalt has a slim lead, according to the poll. He has support from 46 percent of likely voters, compared with 45 percent for Democrat Steve Sisolak. When the ballot is expanded to include the Libertarian candidate and "none of these," Laxalt's advantage grows to 4 points, 44 percent to 40 percent.
Respondents consider economic and health-care issues their top priorities. Twenty-six percent of likely voters say the economy and jobs is the most important factor in deciding their vote, 25 percent say health care, 18 percent say immigration and 9 percent say taxes and spending.
Rosen has hammered Heller over his decision to support a version of Obamacare repeal after pledging to oppose an earlier health-care overhaul.
In addition, 45 percent of likely voters approve of Trump, versus 47 percent who disapprove. He has a slightly lower approval rating, 43 percent, among a larger pool of registered voters. Some Democrats believe Trump's low approval ratings will hurt Heller, who has consistently aligned himself with the president.
By a 51 percent to 39 percent margin, likely voters say they want their midterm vote to send a message that more Democrats should serve as a check and balance on Trump, rather than more Republicans who will help the president pass his agenda.
Despite narrow leads for Republicans, the poll provides some good news for Democrats. For one, they're more enthusiastic about the midterms: 89 percent of likely Democratic voters in Nevada say they consider this year's midterm elections "very important," compared with 82 percent of state Republicans who agree.
Furthermore, undecided voters are more negative about Trump than the electorate at large and tend to prefer Democrats in charge of Congress.
The NBC/Marist poll of Nevada was conducted — via interviews by landline and mobile phones — Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 of 929 adults (which has a margin of error of plus-minus 4.2 percentage points), 780 registered voters (plus-minus 4.5 percentage points) and 574 likely voters (plus-minus 5.5 percentage points).