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Brian Sandoval finds himself in very high demand

No matter what else, Gov. Brian Sandoval has a bright future.

He’d been talked about constantly as a candidate for vice president during this year’s Republican primary season, although he’d repeatedly denied he would leave his post as governor before his first term is up in 2014. Although his star turn at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this year wasn’t a smash hit, it didn’t hurt him.

Want proof? Sandoval was suggested by National Journal as a possible candidate for secretary of the Interior Department should Mitt Romney win the White House in November. And a Cabinet post is a stepping stone to national office. (Finally, reporters will perhaps start asking Sandoval if he wants to run for president instead of vice president?)

Of course, Sandoval’s nomination relies on a series of increasingly unlikely events: First, he’d have to go back on his promise not to leave his job before he’s served his full term. Second, Romney would have to win the White House.

But there’s probably more than one person here in Nevada who’s secretly cheering for that very turn of events.

First, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki would assume Sandoval’s duties if the governor were to resign to go to Washington. And for him, this is the only pathway to higher office that doesn’t involve sitting out for a few years. Krolicki is in the middle of his final term, the end of which coincides with Sandoval’s presumed re-election. Neither U.S. Senate seat is up in 2014, and Krolicki’s congressional district is already spoken for in the person of Mark Amodei.

That means the music will stop in 2014 and Krolicki will not have anywhere to sit. But if Sandoval were to leave early, Krolicki could mount a bid for governor in 2014 as the incumbent.

Second, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto wouldn’t mind seeing Sandoval exit stage Nevada. She’s a natural candidate for governor in 2014, but she does not relish going up against a popular governor who has shown a facility with politics and mostly has avoided mistakes. (Like Krolicki, Cortez Masto is reaching the end of her tenure under term limits.)

While either Sandoval or Krolicki would have a natural advantage as an incumbent, there’s little doubt that Cortez Masto could pick her opponent, she’d choose Krolicki.

That would be something of a grudge match between the two. Cortez Masto indicted Krolicki on charges related to mishandling of funds for the state’s college savings program, but the indictment was dismissed. Krolicki was never accused of embezzling the funds, but the indictment, based on an state audit of the program, is still a sore point with him.

Then again, who’s to say that Cortez Masto might not be the candidate who gets a federal appointment under a second Obama term? She’s worked as a federal prosecutor before and could position herself for a run for U.S. Senate from a Cabinet or sub-Cabinet post. If incumbent Attorney General Eric Holder is too damaged by questions surrounding the Fast and Furious scandal, Cortez Masto would make an excellent second-term AG.

In that event, Sandoval would appoint a replacement for Cortez Masto here, and that person would be targeted by Secretary of State Ross Miller. The secretary has openly mused about the attorney general’s job, a sinecure from which he’s sure to mount a bid for governor in 2018, at the end of a Sandoval second term, or before, if the governor finally succumbs to the emoluments the national establishment just can’t stop sending his way.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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