John Ensign trails every Democrat on the farm in hypothetical reelection contests next year but Republicans have a very good chance at keeping his seat if Dean Heller ends up as the party nominee instead.
Ensign's approval rating is only 35% with 50% of voters disapproving of him. His numbers are especially atrocious with independents, as only 22% of them are happy with the job he's doing while 56% express disapproval of his performance. Even more troubling for Ensign is that just 26% of voters in the state want him to seek reelection while 59% wish he would step aside. The most critical finding on that question is that even among Republicans more- 48%- wish Ensign would step aside than the 42% who want him to run again. That bodes very poorly for his prospects in a primary (we'll have that part of the poll out on Monday.)
Given Ensign's bad approval numbers it's not surprising that he trails a laundry list of potential Democratic opponents. He does worst against Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman who is not actually currently a Democrat but would presumably run as one on the off chance he did make a Senate bid. Goodman leads him 45-35. Against Congresswoman Shelley Berkley who seems like the most likely Democratic candidate at this point he's down 45-42. He has a 44-42 deficit against Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and a 40-39 one against Secretary of State Ross Miller.
What's most remarkable about Ensign trailing all of the Democrats is that none of them are particularly well known at this point. 34% of voters in the state have no opinion about Goodman and it's 35% for Masto, 37% for Berkley, and goes all the way up to 50% for Miller. Their leads over Ensign would be more likely to increase than anything else if any of them was actually to enter the race and become better known across the state.
So Republican prospects for holding onto the seat would be pretty dire if Ensign remained the party's standard bearer. The good news for them is that Congressman Dean Heller would be an extremely formidable alternative. Although Heller is also unknown to a fair number of voters in the state- 31%- the ones who do have an opinion about him are very positive, breaking down 46% favorable and 23% unfavorable. And he would start out with an initial lead over all of the Democrats, ranging anywhere from 7 to 13 points. It's 45-38 over Goodman, 46-37 over Masto, 46-34 over Miller, and 51-38 over Berkley.
The difference between how Ensign and Heller do with independents against each of the Democrats is pretty remarkable. Against Berkley Ensign trails by 1 but Heller leads by 28. Against Goodman Ensign trails by 17 but Heller leads by 7. Against Masto Ensign trails by 12 but Heller does by just 2. And against Miller Ensign trails by 10 but Heller leads by 17.
The Nevada Senate race may be one of the Connecticuts or Kentuckys of this cycle- one where the incumbent party looked like it was headed for near certain defeat until the incumbent got out of the picture, ultimately allowing his party to keep the seat. Nevada should be competitive Ensign or no Ensign given the increasing blue tinge of the state, but at least from the get go Republicans would be favored to keep the seat with Heller but lose it with Ensign.
Full results here