Bush, Ensign still lead Democratic rivals in Nevada

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LAS VEGAS - Republicans George W. Bush and John Ensign continue to enjoy leads in Nevada in their respective races for president and the U.S. Senate, a new statewide poll shows.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal poll found Bush leading Democrat Al Gore by a 12-point margin, 49 percent to 37 percent. Bush held an 8-point edge over Gore in March.

The poll shows Ensign holds a 20-point lead over Democrat Ed Bernstein, 56 percent to 36 percent. Ensign held a 22-point lead in March in their race for the seat being vacated by Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev.

The results are based on a survey of 637 Nevada voters conducted Monday through Thursday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. Results have a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percent.

In the presidential race, 2 percent backed conservative Pat Buchanan and 2 percent supported the Green Party's Ralph Nader. Ten percent were undecided.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he thinks most Nevadans will choose Gore once they realize his stand on nuclear waste is more beneficial for the state than Bush's.

''Yes, I'd like to see the numbers reversed, but the election is not today,'' he said, adding most voters have yet to focus on the race.

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposed a plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

In May, Bush released a statement saying any decision to use Yucca Mountain as a repository must be based on ''sound science.''

However, Bush refused to say whether he would veto separate bills that would have loosened regulatory standards at Yucca Mountain and placed an interim storage site in Nevada.

Gore supported both vetoes - one an actual veto and the other a threatened veto.

Bush spokesman Sig Rogich of Las Vegas insisted Bush's answers on nuclear waste are similar to Gore's and the veto questions were covered by Bush's commitment to sound science.

In the Ensign-Bernstein race, the number of undecided voters has dropped from 14 percent to 8 percent since March, the poll shows.

Ted Jelen, chair of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said he thinks Bernstein faces slim odds of overtaking Ensign with five months to go before the election.

''If I were Bernstein I'd get a private detective. Some major scandal would help him out,'' Jelen said. ''Short of that, it doesn't look good.''

But Bernstein, a Las Vegas lawyer, was upbeat about the results.

''He's lost ground. I think we're going in the right direction,'' he said, noting his favorable rating is higher than his unfavorable rating for the first time in the race - 27 percent to 25 percent.

Bernstein said he's spent $180,000 on television ads so far, while Ensign said he's spent $600,000.

Bernstein is being urged by some Democratic strategists to go on the attack against Ensign.

Ensign said he would not ''throw the first punch,'' but would respond if Bernstein attacks.

Ensign, a veterinarian and former two-term congressman from Las Vegas, lost by 428 votes in his 1998 bid to unseat Reid.


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