Sandoval’s victory a first

Republican Brian Sandoval made history Tuesday by becoming Nevada’s first Hispanic governor.

Sandoval, a former federal judge, topped Democrat Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission, 54 percent to 41 percent .

Sandoval is Nevada’s 30th governor, replacing Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, whom he defeated in the primary.

The Reno resident led Reid by double digits throughout the race and even held a slight lead on the Democrat’s home turf in Southern Nevada.

Reid, the son of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., raised about $2 million more in campaign contributions than Sandoval but could not overcome high statewide negative ratings, in large part because of his family name.

Sandoval appeared on stage at Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas with his wife, Kathleen, parents, brother and sister, three children and a crowd of supporters on Tuesday night.

He expressed relief that the long campaign was over and reached out to Democrats, who control the Legislature.

"Four hundred and thirteen days," Sandoval said of the campaign. "Yes, I counted every single one of them."

Sandoval quickly turned serious, referencing the state’s problems, including high unemployment and a stagnant economy.

"This is one state with one future — north and south, urban and rural, Republican, Democrat and independent," Sandoval said. "The Silver State has a history of coming together in difficult times, and as we confront the challenge before us, we can, and we must, join forces to get Nevada working again."

Sandoval also complimented Reid, calling him "a tough, hard-charging opponent but somebody with class and dignity."

Later, Sandoval was greeted with chants of "Brian, Brian" when he took the stage at the Republicans’ party at The Venetian. During a brief speech, he offered congratulations to his Democratic opponent and also offered congratulations to Republican Sharron Angle, who lost the bitterly contested race for U.S. Senate to Harry Reid.

"I’ve never seen a candidate work so hard," Sandoval said. "I’m so very proud of her."

In a concession speech at the Aria resort, Rory Reid praised his opponent and called for unity.

He said it was inevitable supporters would encounter Sandoval’s wife and children in the community, at school and elsewhere.

"I ask that on all these occasions you treat them kindly and with respect," he said.

Reid also offered to help Sandoval with the transition and urged Nevadans to come together to face the state’s problems.

"Our state, at this point, needs to band together," he said. "We have been through tough times before, but we have never seen anything like this."

With being the first Hispanic governor in Nevada history, Sandoval comes into office facing what has been called the worst financial crisis ever to face state government: a predicted budget shortfall of as much as $3 billion for 2011-13.

And the broader economy is in the throes of a dispiriting recession, with unemployment statewide at 14.4 percent and prospects for a fast recovery bleak.

Even Nevada Gov. Fred Balzar, who was elected in 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression, faced better economic circumstances, said Guy Rocha, retired state archivist.

Balzar’s tenure coincided with the rise of legal gambling and quickie divorces which, with the construction of Hoover Dam, helped the state fare better than the rest of the nation.

And the gambling industry helped Govs. Richard Bryan and Bob Miller avoid recession-related financial crises.

"He can’t depend on a casino gambling service economy that the others did," Rocha said of Sandoval. "He has got to do something different, radically different than they did."

Observers within the Hispanic community said Sandoval’s win has symbolic value, but his honeymoon with the voters will be short given the gravity of the state’s economic woes.

"I think it means a great deal; all these historical events become motivators for future generations," said Ken Fernandez, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "When you have people of your ethnicity or religion in these visible roles, they are key role models. It does trickle down and have an influence on future generations."

Sandoval, 47, has a long career in Nevada politics, much of it as a rising star. An attorney by trade, Sandoval’s first state political job was an assemblyman representing Reno from 1994 to 1998. He later became chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission.

He was elected Nevada attorney general in 2001, becoming the first Hispanic person to hold that post. He was appointed as a U.S. District Court by President George W. Bush, with support from Sen. Harry Reid, in 2005.

Rory Reid, also 47, started the race with what many felt was a major disadvantage, his last name, and never truly clawed his way into contention.

With sharing a ticket with his father, who carried high negative ratings, Reid’s most significant experience was his role as chairman of the Clark County Commission.

"He tried to parlay really a pretty thin political resume into something it wasn’t," said Eric Herzik, a UNR political science professor. "When he argued he had more experience than Brian Sandoval, that is just hard to swallow."

"He also picked the worst possible year to run," said Herzik, noting national anti-Democratic trends.

Reid managed to raise about $2 million more than Sandoval, in large part because he started campaigning several months earlier, and Reid tried a variety of attacks to bring Sandoval down.

The Democrat criticized Sandoval for not presenting a detailed budget plan, for being out of touch with the Latino community, for being too cozy with lobbyists and for a vote cast as an assemblyman in favor of a furniture allowance for legislators.

"They’ve all been pretty weak; none of them have stuck," said David Damore, a UNLV political science professor. "It seems like Sandoval was just too difficult to touch, even with the financial advantage."

Staff writers Richard Lake, Lawrence Mower and Carri Geer Thevenot contributed to this report. Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at or 702-477-3861.

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