Nevada Republican insiders hope that John Ensign will voluntarily step aside rather than seeking a third term in the Senate but even if he doesn't his chances of winning another term are pretty small. Asked who they want their Senate candidate to be next year from a laundry list of candidates just 20% pick Ensign, with Dean Heller leading the way at 30%.
A majority of Republicans still approve of Ensign- 53% to 30% who disapprove. But there's an increasing sense even with GOP voters who are happy with his job performance that the party needs a different candidate next year. One person who Republican partisans are not interested in seeing as that different candidate is Sharron Angle. Just 9% say she would be their top choice, putting her not just behind Heller and Ensign but also Sue Lowden at 12% and Danny Tarkanian at 10%. Even with the conservative voters who fueled her surprising victory in the primary last year Angle's in just fourth place with 11%. Her future prospects for snagging a nomination for any high profile statewide office don't look very good.
We also tested a direct Ensign-Heller match up and the results on that have changed dramatically from a similar poll conducted three months ago in early October. At that time Ensign led Heller 45-37, but he now trails 52-34. I can think of several reasons why things would have changed since then. One is that even though a majority of Nevada Republicans still like Ensign, the result of the Reid/Angle race made it clear they can't nominate just anyone and expect to win and that may have them feeling more like it's necessary to swap out Ensign.
Another is that the spotlight has obviously been shining more on Ensign in the weeks since the election than it had been in a while and that could have the impact of putting Ensign's transgressions back at the top of people's minds, which can't be a good thing for his poll numbers. At any rate not a lot of Senators polling in the 30s for a primary contest find themselves back in Washington for the next Congress.
When it comes to the Republican Presidential contest in the state Mitt Romney remains well out ahead of the pack with 31% to 19% for Sarah Palin, 18% for Newt Gingrich, and 14% for Mike Huckabee. Although Romney has on the whole performed poorly in our 2012 GOP polling of late, it is at least an encouraging sign for him that two of the places where he does do well are the key early states of Nevada and New Hampshire. He's had a double digit lead every time we've looked at the Republican field in this state.
Full results here