Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Republicans in Nevada are stuck in a rut when it comes to Hispanic voters.
Even Gov. Brian Sandoval — one of Nevada’s most popular politicians, who also happens to be Hispanic — didn’t win more than a third of the Hispanic vote in 2010. His GOP counterparts at the top of the ballot in 2012 fared even worse, winning just a quarter of the Hispanic vote.
But as Sandoval heads into what so far appears to be a smooth re-election campaign, he’s making a concerted effort to staunch the Republican bleeding with the state’s fastest growing demographic.
The Sandoval campaign’s effort is twofold: First, translate his likeability among Hispanics into actual votes at the polls. Second, parlay Sandoval’s reputation to repair the Republican brand with Hispanics across the board.
Sandoval’s political advisers argue the Hispanic vote in 2010 reflected opposition to the Republican Party rather than to Sandoval.
“If you look historically, Republicans in Nevada have hovered between the high 20s to 35 percent (with Hispanic voters),” Sandoval’s political consultant, Mike Slanker, said. “It’s been a pretty narrow range, and Sandoval has fit right into that.
“We don’t plan on letting that happen again.”
Slanker noted that Republican statewide candidates, even those who run a credible campaign geared toward Hispanics, can count on only a third of the vote.
“That’s just not good enough,” Slanker said. “That’s not good enough now or for the future.”
They have an ambitious goal: 50 percent.
Slanker argued Sandoval’s standing with Hispanic voters has already improved since his poor showing with the demographic at the ballot box.
In an unusual move for the Sandoval campaign, it released a portion of a recent internal poll showing Sandoval has a 62 percent favorability rating among Nevada Hispanic voters. His unfavorable rating was 24 percent.
The poll, conducted by the Tarrance Group in July, sampled 300 Spanish-speaking, English-speaking and bilingual Hispanic voters statewide. It had a margin of error of 5.8 percent.
The campaign declined to provide job approval numbers, which traditionally are somewhat lower than favorability ratings for most politicians, or any head-to-head numbers testing how Sandoval would fare against a Democratic opponent.
Jeremy Hughes, Sandoval’s campaign manager, said those numbers are positive, as well.
Still, likeability doesn’t necessarily mean votes.
Although Election Day 2014 is more than a year out and television ads have yet to blanket the airwaves, Sandoval has launched an online ad campaign focused on education that targets Spanish- and English-speaking Hispanic voters.
The campaign is a reprise of the slogan that irritated Democrats during the legislative session, after they lost the budget fight to Sandoval: “More Education Funding. No New Taxes.”
The ad campaign is the initial stage of a sustained effort to target Hispanic voters, not just on education but on other issues, as well, Hughes said.
“A year from now, everybody down the ticket — state senate, assembly, everyone — will be online doing ads,” Hughes said. “The earlier you start, the more likely people will notice. You have a stronger effect when you’re the only one out there filling that void.”
Sandoval has tailored the agenda of his first term to fit nicely with his sales pitch to Hispanic voters.
He approved a budget allocating $50 million to programs for English-language learners in public schools. He signed a bill creating a driver’s privilege card for immigrants in the country without proper documentation. And he’s advocated for the Senate’s immigration reform bill, which includes a pathway to citizenship.
Although no Democrat has launched a campaign against Sandoval, the Nevada Democratic Party isn’t about to let Sandoval have a free ride into 2014.
"Considering Nevada continues to rank at the bottom of the country in education and at the top of the country in unemployment, it would be nice if we had a governor who was more interested in strengthening Nevada's middle class than campaigning for re-election,” party spokesman Zach Hudson said. “Unfortunately, time and again Brian Sandoval has demonstrated that putting Nevadans back to work and adequately investing in education is not his priority, which is why it isn't surprising he feels the need to start campaigning to defend his abysmal record."
Democratic operatives also laugh off Slanker’s suggestion that Sandoval can repair the image of the Republican Party with Hispanic voters simply by improving his own reputation with them.
“For this election and every election, part of our strategy is to extensively contrast Republican candidates with Democratic candidates with Hispanic media,” a Democratic operative said. “This includes paid media, earned media, voter contact efforts, etc.”
Even if no Democrat decides to take on Sandoval, that sustained Democratic campaign that has succeeded in winning the party up to 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in recent elections will continue in other 2014 races, the operative said.