LAS VEGAS, NV — The latest polling suggests Mitt Romney’s going to score a big victory in Nevada’s caucuses this Saturday. Much of the chatter here, however, is about whether the state may also wind up giving him a running mate for the general election.
Nevada’s governor Brian Sandoval has been bandied about as a potential — if longshot — veep choice since his election in 2010. On paper, his resume looks solid. He’s a young rising star in the party with strong approval ratings and, as a Hispanic Republican, could help a Republican nominee — and especially Romney — stop the bleeding with one of the party’s weakest general election demographics.
Sandoval came up as state Attorney General and was liked enough by Harry Reid that he recommended him to President Bush as a US district judge, where he served for four years. Sandoval repaid the favor by destroying Reid’s son Rory in the 2010 gubernatorial race, a consolation prize for national Republicans devastated by Sharron Angle’s failure to defeat the elder Reid that same year.
Sandoval endorsed Rick Perry for 2012 and has sat out the presidential race since his favored candidate dropped out last month, but Romney gave him a friendly shout out in the last Republican debate when asked if he’d appoint a Hispanic cabinet member.
Still, Nevada Democrats and Republicans alike that I talked to were skeptical of whether he could work on a Romney ticket. And mostly for the same reason — he and Romney might just be too alike to satisfy the base.
“Another moderate governor with good hair — it doesn’t make sense to balance Romney that way,” one union activist told me.
The biggest issue is taxes: after pledging not to raise taxes to close Nevada’s huge deficits, the governor agreed to extend $600 million of expiring tax hikes as part of a budget deal with Democrats.
“He’s very well liked, he’s very popular, but he started off in office saying no new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes,” Chuck Muth, a GOP consultant now working as an adviser for pro-Newt Super PAC Winning Our Future, told TPM. “It certainly didn’t drive his negatives through the roof so people hate the guy, but conservatives are very suspicious of him now because of that.”
While Sandoval’s Mexican heritage could be an image boost for the GOP, he has a complicated record on immigration that dulls his crossover appeal. A border hawk, he not only supported Arizona’s tough immigration law but drew a round of jeers for saying in an interview that his kids wouldn’t be affected by the law because they don’t look Hispanic.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.