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August 31, 2015

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The GOP’s subtle message behind Sandoval’s speech

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Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval addresses delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.

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TAMPA, Fla. — When Brian Sandoval spoke to the Republican National Convention, he used his personal American story to make a pitch for the country to vote for Mitt Romney.

But it’s what he didn’t say about himself that may have been his loudest message at the convention.

Sandoval is in many ways the Republicans’ best answer to the two voting blocs where the Democrats feel they have the upper hand on the issues: women and Hispanics.

Democrats have long been charging that Republicans aren’t sympathetic to Hispanic voters because of the party’s opposition to immigration reforms like the Dream Act, a measure that would put undocumented immigrants with long tenure in this country on a pathway to citizenship.

They’ve also charged Republicans with waging a “war on women” over reproductive rights, a claim that was punctuated 10 days ago when Republican Rep. Todd Akin, who is running for the Senate in Missouri, questioned the necessity of abortion because he believed women were hard-wired to “shut that whole thing down” and avoid pregnancy in the case of rape.

Republican leaders cut off Akin’s campaign funding and publicly called for him to drop out of the race after his statements but still have sustained hits from Democrats who accuse the GOP of sharing the bulk of Akin’s views, even if they condemn his comment.

Enter Sandoval, the pro-choice Republican.

“He is a wonderful person to speak for the Republican Party to show how we are not …” said rural delegate Chairman Wes Rice, pausing as he struggled to search for the right word to describe Akin.

“Keep it clean,” RNC committeewoman Heidi Smith of Nevada warned him, smiling.

“Let’s make it positive,” Nevada delegate Kim Bacchus jumped in. “We’re a huge, inclusive party. A litmus test for abortion is what the Democrats do, not what we do.”

Abortion has, however, been widely discussed on the campaign trail, especially at the presidential level. Romney, now the Republican presidential nominee, made a quick “evolution” to bring his views, formerly pro-choice, into line with the party’s pro-life platform.

Sandoval doesn’t discuss his position on abortion much. But his pro-life stance appeared to keep him off the short list for vice president, a position for which his name was tossed about earlier this election season.

Part of what put his name in circulation for consideration in the first place was his Hispanic heritage.

“We have two Hispanic governors in this country, and both of them are Republicans,” said David Gibbs, an alternate delegate and former chair of the Clark County Republican Party.

Republicans have been determined to pull a greater share of the Hispanic vote than they’ve enjoyed in the past few election cycles. On paper, Sandoval wouldn’t seem to be the man to help them do it — he couldn’t pull a majority of Hispanics in 2010, even though he trounced his opponent, Rory Reid, by 20 points.

But Nevada Republicans consider that outcome a fluke and say Sandoval is still one of their best guys to carry the party’s message to Hispanic voters.

“In 2010, Harry Reid was running. The busloads of casino workers were told who to vote for. If they wanted to keep their jobs, they voted for Harry Reid. But Hispanic voters’ values align much more closely with Gov. Sandoval’s than they do with Sen. Reid’s,” Bacchus said, referring to the Nevada senator who won about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2010, a turnout he credited largely to his support for the Dream Act.

“These people understand the value of work, of owning your own business, of having a job of getting ahead,” Bacchus continued. “Our Hispanic population’s stories are similar to the Marco Rubio story and that of Gov. Sandoval’s.”

During his own campaign, Sandoval was often reticent to discuss his Hispanic heritage. During his speech before the Republican National Convention, he shrugged off that reticence.

“I have seen Hispanic business owners and families from backgrounds not unlike my own struggle in this economy,” Sandoval said, before delivering his closing argument for the Romney-Ryan ticket. “From personal experience, I can tell you what will help states like Nevada and families like mine: Elect the team that understands how to get America working again.”

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