Poll: Flores viable in LG's race, life story is a big plus

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores is hardly known by Nevada voters but has a compelling life story and “would have a good chance of winning an election against (state Sen.) Mark Hutchison,” according to a national pollster who surveyed the lieutenant governor’s race for her.

Geoff Garin tested positives and negatives for Flores and Hutchison, who still has a primary with Sue Lowden to overcome, and found that she would lose, 41-35, in an initial heat but would nip Hutchison, 46-43, after voters were more fully informed about each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

The poll was taken a month ago of 618 statewide voters and spared nothing in presenting voters with pejorative characterizations of both candidates. (I have seen the entire poll – it is the usual quality work from Garin-Hart-Yang – and have posted Garin’s memo here.)

Some key points:

►Overwhelmingly majorites of voters don't know these candidates. Hutchison has 31 percent name ID and Flores only 19 percent. The campaigns will mean everything in a race like this where neither really has a base.

►Garin gave a frank and brutal description to voters of Flores' life:

Lucy grew up as one of 13 children in a low-income Hispanic family. Her mother left home when she was nine years old, and she was raised by her father. Lucy got involved with gangs and was sentenced to juvenile detention for stealing a car. She dropped out of high school, and at age 16 she became pregnant and had an abortion because she did not want to be a teenage mother like her sisters. Lucy decided to turn her life around, earned her GED, attended community college, earned a scholarship to the University of Southern California, and graduated from law school at UNLV.

This is the key finding of the poll, and the one that Flores really needed to know:

"Overall, 59% of voters say these details about her life story make them more favorable toward electing her as lieutenant governor, while only 17% say they make them less favorable."

►I found this interesting from the memo: "First, this poll was conducted during the white heat of the negative response to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Not surprisingly, voters in Nevada, like voters elsewhere, are more unfavorable than favorable in their opinions of Obamacare. What is somewhat surprising, however, is the negative reaction voters have to Mark Hutchison’s hardline opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, this turns out to be one of the most significant negative arguments against him we tested."

The poll also found that Gov. Brian Sandoval's popularity doesn't necessarily translate to Hutchison. But I think it remains to be seen exactly what Sandoval is willing to do, how he does it and how voters react, especially considering an argument could be made that the senator is to the right of the governor.

Obviously a survey taken a year before an election doesn’t usually mean a lot, especially if both candidates are not well known and can be defined by the campaigns to come. But Flores’ rags-to-assembywoman story, which features those run-ins with the law and a teenage abortion, appears to resonate and could help her, all other things being equal, which they rarely are. But she needed that question answered before taking the final step to enter the race.

And now she has it.

“They see her life experiences overwhelmingly as a plus and not a minus in a way that speaks powerfully to her character,” Garin told me. “The answer couldn’t be more clear of what people make of her background.”

Here’s the bottom line: She is in, and she can win.