Nevada’s governor is all the rage among Washington pundits.
1) Is Gov. Brian Sandoval national-stage material?
2) Can he weather prime-time pressure?
3) Is he conservative enough to appeal to the impatient tea party constituency?
Here are the answers: “Yes,” “probably” and “meh.”
Most questions about Sandoval tend to miss the mark. The reason the nation is well advised to consider this popular governor for a bigger job is contained largely in what I wrote last August.
Between Sandoval, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, “Sandoval is the least known and admittedly least likely to get a hard national look.”
“He’s untested,” I wrote back then. “But he has a compelling story: A man who gave up a lifetime appointment as a federal judge to run for governor. He left the security of the federal bench because, he said, he felt he was the right person at the right time to come to the aid of his state in its time of need.
“In the 2010 election cycle, (Sen. Harry) Reid (D-Nev.) surprised most everyone by muscling his way to re-election. What people forget is in that same election Sandoval bucked the Reid machine to wallop Harry Reid’s son, Rory.
“Sandoval has gone on to become a strong, popular governor — far more popular than Harry Reid himself today. The fact that Sandoval is good-looking (my wife tells me this) and a Hispanic man is a political bonus, I guess. But his staying power lies not in his mug shot or his ethnicity, but in his achievements. In that way, he’s the practically perfect conservative for a nation craving form and substance.
“Sandoval gives ear to opposing views. He avoids rhetoric that widens divisions. He values individual responsibility; doesn’t incessantly look for national attention; and, hold on to your Nevada cowboy hat, he works hard. He even gets off the governor’s chair to visit all parts of the state — and in Nevada, that’s no easy task.
“He’s a conservative Western Hispanic governor who puts his head down and does the job. What’s not to like?”
That was six months ago. Now Gov. Sandoval does, indeed, appear to be a part of the conversation.
He now has three-plus years of practical experience in real-life governing. That’s something Barack Obama never had.
While generally a man of steady demeanor, Sandoval has recently shown an ability that could come in handy on the national and world stage: He will crack heads if he needs to.
Late in 2013, it became painfully apparent that Nevada’s Obamacare exchange website underperformed. Sandoval didn’t do the Obama/Pontius Pilate routine and whine about not being able to write code. Sandoval publicly demanded better of his own staff and the vendor, not because he was embarrassed for himself, but because Nevadans deserved better.
Allow me to repeat that for the benefit of a tone-deaf Obama administration: HEADS ROLLED.
So, can Sandoval excel on the national stage? It’s a crapshoot.
I’ve not seen him exhibit a Gov. Chris Christie kind of charm, but he’s also not a big gaffe risk like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who in the 2012 primary debate declared he’d eliminate three federal agencies but could only name two.
I’d handicap Sandoval an 80/20 shot at being better than your average candidate on the national stage. He won’t hit Obama heights (who could?), but he’s no goof, a la Harry Reid, either.
Whether he’s conservative enough, well, that’s a question Democrats like to bring up. If the GOP stands up to its “big tent” ideals — and I think it will — Brian Sandoval will do just fine on most tickets.
But for all this, what stands out about Sandoval is his ability to avoid the condescending label of being a “good Hispanic governor.”
He’s just a flat-out good governor.
That’s the cool thing about Brian Sandoval — his ethnic identity is not the end-all, be-all of his public service. His cultural background is never used to set lower performance goals, by him or his supporters. When Nevadans of all political stripes think about Gov. Brian Sandoval, they think “effective” … “hard work” … “thoughtful” … “competent.”
If anything ought to resonate on the national stage amid the Obama presidency, Sandoval’s story should.
Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his columns and blogs at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.