When Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks, many Nevada Republicans aren’t really listening.
Don’t be misled: Lots of Nevada Republicans like Sandoval and will no doubt vote to re-elect him next year. But they’re just not always so keen on following his advice.
For example, Sandoval was an early endorser of Texas Gov. Rick Perry when Perry was running for president. Sadly, Perry was forced to drop out of the race before Nevada Republicans went to their caucus meetings and handed half the state’s delegates to ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, with then-Texas Rep. Ron Paul taking second place. While there’s no way to tell for sure how Perry would have done had he lasted long enough to campaign in Nevada, I’d be willing to bet the results would not have changed.
On Sept. 28, another Sandoval endorsement fell flat: The governor backed lobbyist Robert Uithoven in the election for chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, of which Sandoval is by tradition the leader. Not only did Uithoven lose the race to incumbent Chairman Michael McDonald, he lost it by a decisive margin: 192-112. And that loss happened despite the promise from a representative of billionaire Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldson Adelson that he would withhold donations unless the party’s effectiveness improved (read — elected new leadership).
The loss can’t be blamed on Sandoval, of course. Uithoven got in late and had to scramble for support. And the perennially underestimated McDonald has done a good job keeping up relations with both factions of the state’s GOP: the establishment wing that’s loyal to Sandoval and the libertarian wing that distrusts the governor as too friendly to tax increases and big government.
But for an incumbent governor to see his hand-selected party chair rejected by the rank-and-file members of the state central committee is more than a little bit embarrassing. Sandoval said two days after the loss that “it is what it is,” adding that he’d focus on his own re-election and acknowledging that he’d failed thus far to place a congratulatory call to McDonald, according to a report by Geoff Dornan in the Nevada Appeal.
It is what it is, indeed.
Earlier this year, Sandoval instantly endorsed the lieutenant governor candidacy of state Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, via Twitter. The pair have been campaigning as a ticket and raising money around the state for next year’s election. And it’s important for the No. 2 job to go to a Republican, if Sandoval wants the freedom to pursue higher office in 2016, so the state doesn’t end up in Democratic hands. (Sandoval could be a candidate for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s seat, for vice president or for an appointment to a Cabinet job if a Republican takes the White House that year.)
But Sandoval’s personal support didn’t stop former state Sen. Sue Lowden from jumping into the lieutenant governor’s race last week. The casino executive said she had a “cordial” conversation with the governor before she entered the race and that she’d work well with him if she were elected. But there’s no doubt that Sandoval would have preferred to see no other Republican enter the fray.
Lowden’s candidacy is fraught with irony: In 2008, she incurred the wrath of the Republican Party’s libertarian wing when she shut down the state convention just as anti-establishment figures believed they were poised to elect Ron Paul-supporting delegates to the national convention. Now Lowden may end up being the favorite of the libertarian types as she runs against Sandoval’s favored establishment pick.
And the governor probably didn’t engender warm feelings last week, when he contrasted GOP governors with Republican members of Congress in the New York Times, saying “There’s a clear contrast there. People are craving leadership and problem solvers.”
Perhaps it’s too much to fault Sandoval for being unable or unwilling to lead a notoriously fractious state party. But for a politician with innate skills and, perhaps, national ambitions, it seems our governor has limited influence with members of his own tribe.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.