Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 | 2 a.m.
With a new poll showing Rick Perry battling Rick Santorum and “some other candidate” to not finish dead last in Nevada’s Republican caucuses, it can now be said that Gov. Brian Sandoval did not provide a lasting lift to the Texas governor’s presidential campaign here.
And with Perry recently throwing a “birther” haymaker — questioning President Barack Obama’s U.S. citizenship — after dining with Donald Trump, it might also be time to ask if Sandoval erred in endorsing Perry at all, or at least so early.
Sandoval has of late spent more time distancing himself from Perry’s remarks and controversies than underscoring what he sees as the his fellow governor’s strengths.
After Perry called Social Security an unconstitutional “Ponzi scheme,” Nevada Democrats tried to tar Sandoval with the comments, saying he was throwing Nevada seniors “under the bus.”
After a pastor introduced Perry with a declaration that Mormonism — the faith of fellow Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and about 7 percent of Nevadans — is a cult, Sandoval’s political adviser, Mike Slanker, was forced to issue a brief statement: “No, Gov. Sandoval does not believe Mormonism is a cult.”
Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston reported that Sandoval has distanced himself from Perry’s questions about Obama’s citizenship.
Sandoval, the popular Hispanic governor of this swing state, was widely considered the state’s top endorsement prize. But so far he stands alone among Nevada elected officials in getting behind Perry, bringing to mind the awkward image of a drum major marching down the middle of the street without a parade in tow.
(On Wednesday, Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, joined a long list of Nevada elected officials to endorse Romney.)
Soon after Perry announced his candidacy, polls showed him doing well in Nevada and nationwide.
Perry, it seemed, was the candidate Republicans had been waiting for.
It has been a tough stretch since then, with a string of poor debate performances and controversies.
Some of the difficulties of Perry’s campaign are hurting Sandoval’s political standing, according to political observers.
“Perry should be running a strong second” to Romney, said Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College.
Lokken said “time will tell” whether Sandoval made a mistake in endorsing early, but Nevada would benefit by being viewed as a battleground and if its top elected officials stayed neutral in the presidential politics.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not endorse a candidate in the 2006 Democratic presidential caucuses; Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has declined to endorse any candidate so far.
Pete Ernaut, a close adviser to Sandoval and supporter of Perry, said the Nevada governor’s endorsement of Perry was more personal than political. Perry, while in leadership at the Republican Governors Association, was an early supporter of then-candidate Sandoval over incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons.
In October 2009, Perry visited Sandoval in Las Vegas for a meeting that coincided with Perry’s son’s bachelor party.
“If you look at it (Sandoval’s endorsement) in terms of a purely political move, there are those who may criticize it,” Ernaut said. “It was done on a much more personal level. They’re friends. Where Gov. Perry is in polls today is inconsequential.”