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Dem poll: Lombardo leads GOP gov primary, but support looks soft

Jon Ralston
Jon Ralston
PollsRalston Reports
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Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo continues to have a substantial lead in the GOP primary for governor, but he only has slightly more than a quarter of the vote 75 days before early voting begins, according to a new poll paid for by the Democratic Governors Association.

Lombardo had 26 percent in the DGA survey, followed by ex-Sen. Dean Heller and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee at 13 percent, Reno attorney Joey Gilbert at 12 percent, Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore at 8 percent and businessman Guy Nohra at 1 percent. The actual leader in the poll was “not sure” at 27 percent.

The poll was conducted of 580 likely GOP voters from March 7-8 by PPP polls, a Democratic firm that uses text and robocalls and has done GOP samples in other states. It has a margin of error of 4.1 percent. (PPP has been rated A-minus by 538.)

So what does this mean?

The DGA, like other Democratic groups, has been singularly focused on Lombardo for months, believing he has the best chance to defeat Gov. Steve Sisolak – a fact other polls have confirmed. Indeed it is possible none of the other contenders could win a general election, including Heller, because of their baggage. So there is little doubt the DGA conducted (and released) this poll to send a message that Lombardo does not have this locked up and to provide a potential road map for his opponents to defeat him.

It’s hard for even Lombardo’s advocates to argue that his support is anything but soft. He has never run statewide before, and he remains untested in this kind of high-profile contest.

But he also has run an excellent campaign so far, hiring the best talent, avoiding interactions with the Lilliputians in the primary and building a large lead.

The survey, as you can see from the polling memo below, tested various themes to try to diminish Lombardo’s support, some of which are already being used by his foes. After doing so, Heller takes a slight lead within the margin of error, but I cannot put enough caveats on this kind of result.

These kinds of hypotheticals on paper rarely are that predictive because of so many wild cards – the quality of campaigns, fundraising by candidates and vulnerabilities of the others that have yet to be tested. Sure, Lombardo is a tabula rasa to many GOP voters and by claiming the sheriff made Las Vegas a “Sanctuary City,” tried to “deny law-abiding Americans their right to own a gun,” once gave support to defunding the police and once supported Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, you can move a lot of voters. Theoretically, that is. Huge majorities – about three-quarters – would reconsider their support or have serious concerns about Lombardo, according to the poll.

Forget that these issues are hyperbolically proffered in the poll – they will be in the campaign, too. But we also don’t know if any of the contenders will be able to use them effectively, especially since Lombardo dwarfs them all in fundraising to help him blunt these attacks.

One finding in the poll worth noting is what could happen if ex-President Donald Trump were to endorse in the race – and there is no sign yet that he will. Sixty percent of respondents said they would be more likely to support a Trump-endorsed contender, and 49 percent would switch their backing if their current candidate were not so lucky.

So Trump could make a difference. In a vacuum. Maybe.

A couple of other points to consider:

---TV matters: Lee has spent seven figures on TV and is now in double digits. But he has a lot of baggage that has yet to be vetted, including…being a Democrat for most of his career.

---Turnout mystery: There is reason to believe turnout will be unusually high for a midterm primary, especially with every voter getting a mail ballot. But nobody knows nuthin’.

The bottom line: Lombardo does not have this primary locked, but he remains a significant favorite. And this poll is designed to ensure he gets bloodied up in the next two and a half months – at least – before the general election campaign begins.

Trump could be a real factor, but so, too, will the campaigns matter. The poll numbers make sense to me, but, as I said, I wouldn’t put much stock in the hypotheticals designed to hurt Lombardo’s standing.

What looks good on paper, in politics and sports, doesn’t always mean a lot. You still have to play the game.

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