Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011 | 8:07 p.m.
Things are looking up for Shelley Berkley.
She ended September with a record-setting quarter for donations to her campaign, which also happened to be almost double that collected by her presumed opponent in the race to Nevada’s second Senate seat, Dean Heller — who has been the incumbent since he was appointed to fill out the rest of John Ensign’s term back in May.
Now, Berkley seems to have closed a six-point gap between her and Heller. Nevada’s Senate race, according to Public Policy Polling, is a dead heat: 45 percent to 45 percent.
The PPP poll, which has a three percent margin of error, sampled 500 Nevada voters, 43 percent of whom self-defined as Democrat, and 38 percent of whom self-defined as Republican. That’s representative of the state’s roster of active voters, 42 percent of which are registered Democrat, and 36 percent of which are registered Republican.
Berkley and Heller’s favorable and unfavorable numbers are almost identical: for Berkley, 38 percent of voters approve and 35 disapprove; for Heller, 39 percent approve and 35 percent disapprove.
That represents a slight improvement for Berkley over the last PPP poll, but a slight decline for Heller among voters who describe themselves as Republicans.
They split independents almost down the middle (39 percent for Heller, 37 percent for Berkley), and split every age group but the 18-to-29 year olds in almost equal portion as well (Berkley wins handily over Heller among younger voters, 60 percent to 30 percent).
In fact, the only categories in which there are marked differences -- despite the expected favoritism of Democrats and Republicans for their own party candidate -- is when voters are divided by race and ideology.
Berkley does much better among minorities (74 to 16 percent among Hispanics, and 74 to 21 percent among African Americans), while Heller does better among white voters (53 to 38 percent).
Berkley also does better on the approve-disapprove among those who identified themselves as ideologically “moderate.” Among those, 48 percent saw Berkley favorably while only 26 percent saw her unfavorably. Heller’s numbers were almost the exact reverse of that split: among moderates, only 26 percent saw him favorably, while 47 percent saw him unfavorably.
But fact that you have to get pretty deep into the weeds to see any distinction in the numbers mean the candidates in this race are likely headed for the trenches as they fight this one out.
“This seems like one of those races that will basically be tied for the whole next year,” said PPP president Dean Debnam, in a statement released along with the poll. “The candidates have pretty much identical approval/favorability numbers, and they both hold their bases while splitting independents almost right down the middle. It would be hard for this contest to be any
more evenly matched at this point in time.”