Presidentail Race a Tossup in Nevada

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The presidential race in Nevada has tightened significantly and is beginning to reflect its national status as a battleground state, according to a statewide poll of likely voters conducted for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Republican ticket of George Bush and Dick Cheney led the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards 46 percent to 43 percent. Seven percent were undecided, and 4 percent went for Ralph Nader, who's heading the independent ticket.

That's significantly closer than a similar poll conducted in March, which showed Bush up 49 percent to 38 percent over Kerry with 9 percent undecided.

The poll of 625 voters was conducted from Tuesday to Thursday by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Some factors that could tip the state for Bush include Nevada's strong economy and Nader's potential to take votes away from Kerry. But Kerry could nullify Bush's edge on those fronts as a result of the Yucca Mountain issue, the poll suggests.

Voters were asked whether Bush's approval of Yucca Mountain as the nation's nuclear waste repository would make them more likely or less likely to vote for him, or if it would have no influence in their decision.

Statewide, a majority of voters said it would have no effect on their presidential vote. But among undecided voters, 31 percent said they would be less likely to vote for Bush because of his Yucca Mountain decision.

"Yucca really kind of jumps out as an issue," pollster Brad Coker said. "It could be the Achilles' heel for Bush because among that little group of undecided voters, by about a 3-to-1 margin, it's working against him."

Kerry voted consistently against Yucca Mountain in the Senate and has vowed to halt the project if he is elected.

Steve Wark, a Republican political consultant who said he aided the effort to get Nader on the ballot in Nevada, said he thinks Nader can also help the president.

"Any third party candidate with appeal to an electorate will garner some votes in the general election and most of the votes that Ralph Nader will garner will come from Democrat leaning voters," Wark said.

Coker said he believes the race in Nevada probably will lean more to Kerry after this week's Democratic National Convention and could even out again after the Republican National Convention in late August.

Kerry's climb in the poll since March shows the presumptive Democratic nominee withstood "that first big wave of attack ads," Coker said. The Bush campaign was advertising heavily in Nevada around the time of the March poll.

Coker also said Kerry gained from increased public concerns about the war in Iraq and from his selection of Edwards as his running mate.

The same poll showed 46 percent of voters recognize Bush favorably, compared to 40 percent unfavorably. Kerry's recognition is split in thirds between favorable, unfavorable and neutral. Nader is recognized favorably by 19 percent compared to 45 percent unfavorable.

Bush is supported more by men, while Kerry gets more support from women. The breakdown in counties statewide falls along voter registration with Kerry winning in Clark, Bush winning in Washoe and Bush winning decisively in rural Nevada.

The Kerry campaign was "elated" with the poll, said Sean Smith, Nevada spokesman for Kerry. He said the numbers show Kerry within range of putting the state back into the so-called blue column, after Bush's 3.5 percentage point margin of victory in Nevada in 2000.

"We're in a dead heat with him after we were down 11 points in March," Smith said. "We haven't even had our convention yet."