Nevada Gov. Sandoval a mixed bag as potential Romney running mate

Alexis Levinson | Political Reporter

Conventional wisdom among Mitt Romney VP-watchers is that the presumptive GOP nominee should pick a running mate who is experienced and rather boring, someone who would neither embarrass him nor outshine him.

Just two years into his first term as Nevada governor, Brian Sandoval doesn’t exactly fit that bill. But a source familiar with the proceedings said not to count Sandoval out.

Sandoval is an incredibly popular governor, sporting a 62 percent approval rating, according to a Rasmussen poll at the end of February. He is also Hispanic, and could potentially help draw out the Latino vote. Equally important, Nevada is a swing state where President Obama is considered to have an edge.

But Sandoval also has his problems: Along with being relatively new and unvetted, he is pro-choice; and he has raised taxes twice during his short time as governor. Those are deal breakers, according to several Republican strategists.

“I just don’t see with his rumored pro-choice stance how he fits into the equation,” Republican strategist Chuck Warren told The Daily Caller. “Great governor, superb future, but I think that one policy position makes him untenable for [the Republican] evangelical base.”

“The pluses of Sandoval: he’s in a key state, he’s a governor, and he’s Hispanic, three huge considerations of the Romney team,” added Republican strategist Phillip Stutts. “The downside is he recently had to raise taxes,” something the conservative electorate would not like.

Trey Hardin, another Republican strategist, said Sandoval would be a poor choice for Romney.

“I think there is a big con that just overshadows any potential pros or even any other cons and that is that he’s pro-choice,” Hardin told TheDC.

Whoever Romney chooses, Hardin said, has to be a conservative with “more conservative chops than Romney to balance the ticket out to ensure that they get the turnout they’re counting on.”

Romney himself, he said, already provides an “appeal to independents.”

“The referendum on Obama is, I think, going to be enough to have the conservatives [on the far right] look past the differences they have with Romney,” Hardin continued. But if Romney picked a pro-choice running mate, he said, the choice would alienate them.

The Nevada governor’s lack of a national following could be a problem, according to Dan Hazelwood, another Republican strategist.

“Sandoval already has accomplished a lot in his life and approaches matters with a refreshing depth and seriousness that the public craves right now. He’d be marvelous on the national stage,” Hazelwood said in an email.

Although he isn’t a national figure, Hazelwood added, “The beginning of a national vetting of Sandoval, with the accompanying press, will serve him and the GOP well even if he’s not the final choice.”

Adding to the wild cards is Nevada’s inextricable link with organized gambling. That could pose additional difficulties.

“You don’t become an elected official at any level in Nevada without being cozy with the gaming industry,” pointed out one Republican strategist. “It’s a fact of life.”

That alone doesn’t suggest corruption, the strategist cautioned, but “a serious vetting program would find contributions” to Sandoval from people in the gaming industry, and some of those people would inevitably be linked to some “shady activities.”

“It’s a very good story to talk about gaming and gambling in Las Vegas and all kinds of stuff that goes on there,” the strategist said.

“Out there it doesn’t hurt you one damn bit,” the strategist added. But on a national stage, it could cause problems.

The strategist also pointed to Yucca Mountain, a proposed storage site for nuclear waste. While most Republicans nationally favor the idea, Sandoval has joined most Nevada politicians in strongly opposing the idea — a position that is popular in his home state but could get him in trouble on the national stage.

Early polling suggests that having Sandoval on the ticket would not significantly move the numbers for Romney in the Silver State. A Public Policy Polling poll from the start of April found that in a head-to-head match up, Romney would lose to Obama 51 percent to 43 percent in Nevada. With Sandoval on the ticket, he would still lose, 50 percent to 44 percent. That poll, however, was conducted when both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were still vying for the nomination.

Sandoval has said he is not angling for the vice presidential slot on a Romney ticket.

“The Governor loves his job and is fully committed to running for re-election in 2014,” said Sandoval press secretary Mary-Sarah Kinner by email.

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