Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday endorsed Rick Perry for president, praising the Texas governor's record on job creation and calling him a friend.
Sandoval's endorsement isn't a great surprise because the two men share political advisers and know one another well, partly because Perry was chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Backing from the popular Nevada leader is a blow to Mitt Romney's campaign, however, as Sandoval lends his name and political organization to Perry to help him win the White House. Romney won the GOP presidential caucuses in 2008 in the state but is lagging behind Perry in recent polls.
"Our nation needs a leader in the White House who understands the role of government and our economy," Sandoval said in a statement endorsing Perry. "Governor Rick Perry has the strongest record of job creation, fiscal discipline and executive branch leadership among the presidential candidates."
Sandoval, who was voted into office in 2010, said he has faith Perry can boost job growth in America again. Perry has said he created 1 million jobs in Texas in the past decade despite the recession. Nevada's unemployment is the highest in the nation at 12.9 percent.
"As a governor, Rick Perry created a tremendous blueprint for job creation, and as president, I know he will get America working again," Sandoval said. "I consider Gov. Perry a friend, and I am proud to endorse his campaign for president."
The endorsement came a day after a GOP presidential debate in Florida in which Perry was lashed by Romney and his opponents, especially for calling Social Security a "Ponzi scheme." Romney said he wants to save the program while Perry and other Republicans want to privatize it for younger workers.
It also comes a week after Romney announced his jobs plan from a trucking company in North Las Vegas, making his third high-profile visit to Nevada this year in his effort to score another win here. A Las Vegas debate is set for Oct. 18, giving Perry and Romney a chance to compete here head to head.
"Mitt Romney is still very much focused on winning the Nevada caucuses as he did last time," Romney's Nevada adviser Ryan Erwin said, noting that the former Massachusetts governor unveiled his jobs plan in Nevada and saying that "he will be back many times" to talk about ways to get the economy moving.
"With Nevada's unemployment the highest in the nation, Mitt Romney's strong record of turning around difficult circumstances will be appealing to voters throughout the state," Erwin added.
While Perry scored the top GOP endorsement, Romney has been endorsed by Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., who both backed him in 2008.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has stayed neutral in the presidential contest, as he did in 2008.
Perry thanked Sandoval for backing him.
"I am honored to receive Gov. Sandoval's endorsement and am thankful for his support as I travel the country sharing my vision for how we will get America working again," Perry said in a statement. "As a fellow governor who understands the importance of implementing common-sense conservative principles, Brian will be an incredible asset to our campaign."
Although Romney and Perry are leading the GOP presidential field in Nevada, two other candidates have active ground troops in the state: U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza. Both are popular conservative speakers, and Paul came in second in the 2008 GOP presidential caucuses here and could pick up delegates again.
'UNDER THE BUS'
The Nevada Democratic Party was quick to criticize Sandoval's endorsement, saying the governor "pushed Nevada seniors completely under the bus" by backing Perry, who has criticized Social Security.
"Governor Sandoval today made clear that rather than focusing on job creation and turning Nevada's economy around, his priorities are appeasing extremists in the tea party like Rick Perry who think a program that millions of Americans rely on for their livelihood is a criminal enterprise," said Zach Hudson, spokesman for the state Democratic Party.
Perry is receiving extra scrutiny as the newest GOP presidential candidate and poll leader.
After the Sandoval endorsement, a GOP operative pointed to a January 2010 story in the Dallas Morning News that said Perry billed the state of Texas $12,321 for security costs for an overnight trip to Las Vegas. Perry attended his son's bachelor's party on Oct. 24, 2009, according to the story.
Perry also found time to visit Sandoval, then a gubernatorial candidate, the Dallas paper reported in a blog, saying the Texas governor used political campaign contributions and some funding from the Republican Governors Association to cover his political portion of the trip.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.