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With or Without Reid, Poll Suggests Trouble For Dems in Nevada

In my article Monday on Harry Reid, I suggested that:

Considering the unimpressive Republican opposition, and that Democrats have developed a sizeable registration advantage in the state, we would probably characterize the contest as “Lean Democrat” if Reid were to be replaced by another candidate like NV-1 Representative Shelly Berkley.

Well, not so much, if a new poll from Public Policy Polling is to be believed. Their survey has Berkley and another Democrat, Secretary of State Ross Miller, also trailing the leading Republican candidates in prospective horse-race matchups:

This is what you get, I suppose, if you have an electorate where President Obama has just a 44 percent approval rating, as PPP shows — this in a state where he got 55 percent of the vote in 2008. That’s an unusually large drop-off, by the way (consider that nationally, Obama got 53 percent of the vote and now has an approval rating averaging 48 percent), but it’s consistent with what other polls of the state have shown (although bear in mind that the polls significantly underestimated Obama’s margin of victory in the Silver State).

Still, I don’t know if the answer is quite as simple as “Democrats are screwed either way.” For one thing, although Berkley and Miller trail the Republicans by about the same margin, they do so in a universe where there are more undecided voters; the Republican candidates get 44-47 percent of the vote against them, whereas they’re already up to 50-51 percent against Reid. When you’re losing, you want more undecideds rather than fewer.

The other thing is that there’s reason to believe that perceptions of Reid are going to be more “sticky”. As I pointed out on Monday, Reid’s approval rating turned sour as early as mid-2007, a time when Democrats were perceived very favorably by the country at large. So even if the national environment improves for Democrats — and it may have to, for them to hold this seat — I’m not sure that Reid is poised to take advantage of that, whereas someone like Berkley probably could.

Or the Democrats could nominate someone perceived to be more independent-minded, like Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, who polls evenly against both Republicans and holds them to 40 percent of the vote. The problem is that Goodman is so independent that … he actually is an independent, as he recently changed his party registration to unaffiliated to prepare for a potential run for governor as an independent candidate. Still, on the off-chance that they could get him interested in the Senate race instead, he would clearly be the Democrats’ ideal candidate.

Otherwise, however, the case that Reid should resign is much less clear than it was for Chris Dodd in Connecticut, a much bluer state where the Democrats had an überpopular replacement in the form of Attorney General Blumenthal. I still think that, conceived narrowly in terms of electoral politics, the Democrats would be better off with Berkley or Miller than Reid, but it’s not a slam dunk, especially when Reid has the money to cut commercials as beautiful as this one.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.