Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2018

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Political intrigue brewing in the 2010 governor’s race

On Friday, Brian Sandoval resigned from an opportunity given him by Harry Reid so he can take the opportunity to try to destroy the ambitions of the Senate majority leader’s son.

Sandoval hopes to brandish the top-of-resume line Reid the Elder provided him in 2004 — federal judge — to prevent Reid the Younger from ever having a new line at the top of his curriculum vitae — governor.

The maneuvers of the father were designed to protect him from a potential rival who could have deposed him and/or other Democratic officials. But how could the Meddler-in-Chief have realized that five years later the man he had elevated to a lifetime appointment would jeopardize his son’s chances to be governor? What about “lifetime” did Sandoval not understand?

As tales of delicious Nevada political irony go, this one is in the Hall of Fame.

Few people can say they actually changed the course of history. Sandoval now has done it twice.

When he accepted the offer of a judicial nomination after a phone call from Reid in 2004, Sandoval, then attorney general and in perfect position for a gubernatorial or senatorial bid, took himself out of the elective picture — presumably for good. Sandoval, who would have been the favorite for governor in 2006, gave the state Gov. Jim Gibbons instead. So Ø is either Sandoval’s fault or Reid’s, depending on your perspective. But I digress.

By clearing the way to run for governor next year — ironically against Gibbons, if the incumbent actually files — Sandoval has threatened the anointment of Rory Reid, the Clark County Commission chairman, and thrown a crowded GOP primary into turmoil. He also could rejuvenate a stricken GOP by providing a rallying point at the top of the ticket for a Republican electorate that has to be depressed by the Gibbons-John Ensign travails. Sandoval may be just the tonic the GOP needs.

Let’s be clear, though: Sandoval has not announced a campaign for governor, just that he has resigned. But no one in his mid-40s resigns from a federal judgeship without something serious in mind — and I know he was afflicted with black robe ennui. So trust me: Sandoval is running for governor and will make an announcement after the resignation becomes effective in a month.

Clarity is required on another score, too: Sandoval is far from a lock — he will not even automatically be crowned the GOP nominee. He has to win the primary — as does Rory Reid, although he is hoping Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley gives him a clear path and Mayor Martini (the one from Vegas, not Sparks) doesn’t have one too many and decide to file next March.

Sandoval, once freed of the ethical strictures of being a judge, will have to move with alacrity. He is $3 million behind Reid, and many people have either forgotten who he was or have never heard of him. He also may have to deal with a commitment issue — he left his jobs as Gaming Commission chairman, attorney general and now federal judge early to fulfill his ambitions.

Even if Sandoval can raise substantial sums — and my guess is he can — will ex-state Sen. Joe Heck and ex-North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon simply bow before the latest GOP messiah or stand up to him as a false God? If they both stay in — and who knows what Gibbons will do? — Sandoval is no shoo-in. Can the former attorney general, once the chosen one of the hated one (Harry Reid), outmaneuver his opponents for the right to the right?

My guess, though, is that Sandoval will be able to assemble top-tier campaign talent and will emerge as the Republican nominee. So what is the ultimate effect of Harry Reid’s anointed choice for the federal bench on anointed one Rory Reid’s chances for governor?

If it is a Sandoval-Reid general election, it could well be the most fascinating five campaign months Nevada has seen. How does Reid the Younger attack a man his father thought enough of to nominate him for a federal judgeship? How often will we hear Reid the Elder offer a “no comment” about Sandoval? And how will Sandoval, the highest elected Hispanic in state history, play with a Latino community that was a foundation of the 2008 Democratic successes here?

If he accomplishes nothing else in his history-altering announcement, Sandoval could very well create enough excitement in the GOP to embolden Chairwoman Sue Lowden to enter the race, thus giving the Republicans hope to defeat the Senate majority leader. Could Brian Sandoval be the agent of destruction for not one, but two Reids, including the one who elevated him?

That would be ironic.

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