Sandoval wishes Perry well, declines to endorse another candidate

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Thursday wished Texas Gov. Rick Perry well after he dropped out of the presidential race. And the Nevada leader signaled he doesn’t plan to endorse another Republican candidate ahead of the Feb. 4 GOP caucus here.

“Rick Perry is a good friend and a great leader,” Sandoval said in a statement. “I wish Rick, Anita, and his family all the best. I will support the eventual Republican nominee and look forward to having all the remaining candidates here in Nevada for our presidential caucus on Feb. 4.”

Sandoval endorsed Perry out of friendship because the Texas governor, as leader of the National Governors Association, helped Sandoval during his 2010 campaign for the governor’s office.

Mitt Romney, the GOP front-runner, remains the presidential candidate to beat in Nevada, where he finished first in the GOP caucuses in 2008. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is his closest competitor, having finished No. 2 here four years ago and enjoying strong support among libertarian Nevadans.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — who won Perry’s endorsement on Thursday after the governor withdrew from the race — also has a conservative following in Nevada, especially among members of the tea party movement. But he has done little to organize ahead of the Feb. 4 caucus.

Romney has racked up the most prominent Nevada endorsements heading into the Feb. 4 caucus, where Republicans will vote for their favorite candidates during the Saturday meetings. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and U.S. Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei are behind the former Massachusetts governor as are most Republicans in the state Senate and Assembly.

Gingrich has the big money backing from Sheldon Adelson, the head of Las Vegas Sands Corp., who recently contributed $5 million to a political action committee promoting Gingrich.

Paul, meanwhile, has focused on turning out his troops and on wooing various coalitions — from military veterans to Mormons, who largely supported their fellow churchgoer Romney four years ago.

Sandoval’s early endorsement of Perry had surprised some GOP observers given Romney’s front-runner status. But the Nevada governor said it was based on the two men’s relationship.

Greg Ferraro, who has been a political adviser to Sandoval, said he doesn’t think the governor has been hurt by backing Perry. He added that the eventual GOP nominee will benefit once Nevada’s first Hispanic governor campaigns for him in the fall and helps get out the GOP vote.

“There was a personal friendship, and he honored the friendship,” Ferraro said. “And there was a point in time when Governor Perry led in the polls. I think Governor Sandoval will be in a position to help Republicans and certainly in a position to help the eventual GOP nominee. His involvement in any campaign in the fall will make a difference. He’s still a big prize for national Republicans.”

Sandoval, a former federal judge, has been mentioned as a potential vice presidential contender given his popularity, Latino roots and Nevada’s role as an important battleground state.

The Nevada Democratic Party was quick to criticize Sandoval for not endorsing Romney, taking the opportunity to slam the Republican who probably will challenge President Barack Obama in November.

The party called Romney’s record “toxic” for Nevadans, who are suffering the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 13 percent and record home foreclosures.

As the former head of Bain Capital, Romney invested in companies that laid off workers, the Democrats said.

Romney has said the investment firm created thousands of jobs.

Romney also has said he thinks the housing market needs to hit bottom before it can recover, something that might upset Nevada homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.

“Even Brian Sandoval knows that Mitt Romney has absolutely no credibility on the two most important issues facing Nevada, jobs and the foreclosure crisis,” said Zach Hudson, spokesman for the state Democratic Party. “Considering Romney said just last week he likes firing people and told Nevadans facing foreclosure they need to ‘hit the bottom,’ Sandoval’s refusal to endorse Romney isn’t surprising.”

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