RENO - Republican Sen. Dean Heller believes he and President Obama both won re-election last week because Nevadans could better relate to them than they could GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Heller narrowly defeated his Democratic challenger, Rep. Shelley Berkley, by about 12,000 votes or, 1.2 percent, while Obama had 66,000 more votes than Romney in Nevada, or 6.5 percent of the vote.
Nevada Democrats have 90,000 more registered voters than Republicans. But exit polling showed between 1 and 2 out of 20 Democrats crossed party lines after backing Obama to vote for Heller. Only about half as many Romney-backers voted for Berkley.
"I had a number of people approach me and say they went for the Obama-Heller ticket," Heller said.
"Although I supported Romney," he said, "I am not sure Romney was someone that the average person could relate to. Again, I don't think there is anything wrong with Romney's success, but I just think it is something that the average person could not relate to here in the state of Nevada."
Heller said Obama is an excellent speaker and understands what the average middle-class family is thinking. It's the same sort of connection that made President Bill Clinton so popular, he said.
"I just think Obama relates better to the average person in the state of Nevada" Heller told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "And I think at the end of the day, that candidates do matter and I think that was a reflection of (Election Day) and why Obama did so much better."
Heller said Republicans must do better at getting their message across if they want to turn Nevada red in the next presidential election. George W. Bush in 2004 was the last Republican to win Nevada in a presidential election. Obama won in 2008, the same year Heller won re-election to Nevada's 2nd Congressional District.
Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he agreed with Heller and found his comments "refreshingly honest."
"Mitt Romney was not a bad guy," Herzik said. "I don't think he was a bad candidate, but, yes, he had a problem relating to the average voter."
"I thought Mitt Romney was an excellent candidate, when you look at the climate and economy here in Nevada," said Dave Buell, chairman of the Washoe County GOP. "No one should have related better to Romney than the people of Nevada."
Exit polling showed Nevada voters blamed Obama's predecessor, Bush, more than they did the president for the state's high unemployment and foreclosure rates.
The roughly one-fifth of the Nevada voters who said the most important quality in their candidate was that he "cares about people like me" sided with Obama by as much as an 8-to-1 margin.
Romney carried the one-quarter who said their candidate shared their same values and the one-fifth who said their candidate is a strong leader, while the two candidates split the third who said a vision for the future was most important.
The survey of 4,141 voters was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, higher for subgroups.