Sandoval campaign launches muscular ground game

Taking no chances, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval is building a re-election campaign organization designed to boost GOP voter turnout for himself and the entire Republican ticket in November.

He isn’t relying on the Nevada Republican Party, which remains cash poor and fraught with divisions, according to two GOP operatives who on Monday described the governor’s expanding campaign.

Instead, 10 months before the Nov. 4 general election, Sandoval has already recruited 444 precinct captains and 2,387 volunteers, including 215 who are bilingual in Spanish or in several Asian languages. Those numbers are sure to increase as the election year heats up.

Sandoval also is building a near-invincible war chest, raising $3 million since July, his campaign said on Tuesday. In his 2010 race, he spent almost $4 million in all.

“We’re putting together a team of volunteers and things so we’ll actually have a ground game in the fall,” said one GOP operative, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It isn’t just for Gov. Sandoval’s re-election. It’s basically to move the entire ticket.”

The Sandoval organization also will work to register more voters in a state where Democrats have an advantage over Republicans of about 77,000 voters compared to about 100,000 voters in the 2012, 2010 and 2008 elections.

The governor, who tops the ticket this year, is taking a page from the political playbook of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., although Reid built up the state Democratic Party itself instead of boosting a separate organization. As a result, Reid assured his 2010 re-election and President Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012.

Building a strong election organization could also serve Sandoval well if he has higher political ambitions, such as running for Reid’s Senate seat in 2016 — something he insists he isn’t thinking about now.

A spokesman for the Democratic Party, Zach Hudson, scoffed at Sandoval’s strategy of working outside the party. He said it didn’t work for the GOP in 2012 when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost to Obama in the state.

“Considering how toxic the Republican brand has become in Nevada due to their shutdown of the federal government and opposition to extending unemployment benefits, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised Brian Sandoval feels the need to run away from the Republican Party,” Hudson said in a statement. “Regardless, this is just another attempt by Republicans to create from scratch what Nevada Democrats have spent a decade building.”

Hudson added that Republicans should be “far more concerned” about defending GOP lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., who Democrats are targeting for defeat, blasting his failure to help pass immigration reform or a jobs bill.

A Democratic operative said the GOP has come up with similar ground game plans in the past few election cycles, but has not been successful in rebuilding the Republican Party into a cohesive political machine.

Still, Democrats are at a disadvantage in the Sandoval race with no strong candidate coming forward yet.

So far, Sandoval faces no serious opposition, although Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, has said he might run. Otherwise, perennial candidate Eddie Hamilton is running as a Republican while Chris Hyepock, an unknown Democrat, said he will mount a campaign. Filing for office runs March 3-14.

The Sandoval campaign plans to send out an email Tuesday to supporters detailing his election strategy. It also is increasing his social media presence as a way to directly engage more voters, according to the GOP operatives. He has 18,510 Facebook “likes,” for example, and 11,036 Twitter followers, a drop in the bucket compared to celebrities but not bad for a governor. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s personal Twitter account has 15,326 followers, for example, and he’s among the nation’s most popular state leaders.

Sandoval also is on Instagram with 645 followers and Pinterest.

The Sandoval campaign noted that having 2,300 volunteers this early is a big achievement compared to the Reid and Obama campaigns, which touted more than 1,000 Election Day volunteers to help drive voter turnout.

Sandoval, who has an approval rating of about 60 percent, is Nevada’s first Hispanic governor. The former federal judge, state attorney general, gaming commissioner and state assemblyman also has been around Nevada politics long enough to form long ties with major donors, making money no problem. He’s a native Nevadan, as well.

Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat running for attorney general, also is a big winner in the money chase, raising about $900,000, according to his campaign, to finish in the No. 2 spot.

Republican Adam Laxalt, who is the grandson of former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Paul Laxalt, announced on Tuesday that he’s running for attorney general. He’ll have to play catch-up on the money front, but his family name should help.

State Sen. Mark Hutchison, a GOP attorney running for lieutenant governor, raised more than $850,000 so far, according to his campaign. Sandoval has endorsed Hutchison for lieutenant governor and all the other top GOP candidates running for other state offices, offering his anointment as leader of the Republican ticket.

Sue Lowden, a failed U.S. Senate candidate in 2010, also is running for lieutenant governor on the GOP ticket but without Sandoval’s support. She said Tuesday she raised between $240,000 and $250,000 for the race so far.

“If we can turn out voters for a Republican governor, we’ll turn out lots of Republican voters” for other candidates, said one GOP operative. “We’re fully committed to the ground game and into building a machine to turn out Republicans in the fall.”

Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.


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