With Gov. Brian Sandoval declaring triumph in his deal with Tesla and his facing an all-but-unopposed re-election, several national news outlets have taken notice. Fox News Latino, Daily Beast, and Red State have all mentioned him as a U.S. Senate candidate and possible a Republican vice presidential nominee.
This last possibility has been floating around for a while. During his first legislative session as governor, there were regular rumors that his staff was guiding him away from some policy positions and toward others as ways of preserving his viability to be nominated as vice president.
Whenever I heard these stories, I was reminded of two television spots used in earlier presidential campaigns.
One was an anti-Bill Clinton spot used by the George W. Bush campaign in 1992. It portrayed a desolate landscape in black and white that was supposed to represent Arkansas, over which Clinton had presided as governor for 11 years. The narrative recited a bunch of factoids about the state under Clinton — “45th worst in which to work, 45th worst for children, it has the worst environmental policy, and the FBI says Arkansas had America’s biggest increase in the rate of serious crime.”
As it happened, Arkansas was light years ahead of Nevada, then and now. Imagine a similar spot being made on Republican vice presidential nominee Brian Sandoval. Just think of the things its makers would have to work with — Nevada’s standing nationally on items like teen pregnancy, prenatal care, voter turnout, suicide by senior citizens, suicide generally, tobacco use, tobacco-related death, alcohol and drug-related death, firearms death, children’s health, health generally, homicide against women, rate of working people in poverty, toxic releases, child immunizations, reading skills, dropout rate (on both high school and college levels), infectious disease and crimes of all types.
That will make a great spot, given that Nevada usually ranks somewhere near the bottom along with Louisiana and Mississippi.
Which recalls the 1968 television spot made by the Democrats about Republican vice presidential nominee Spiro Agnew. A narrator asked, “Spiro Agnew for vice president?” followed by 30 seconds of hysterical laughter. That’s all there was to it.
There are other things, too, that complicate Sandoval’s national ambitions. For one thing, if giving him the vice presidential nomination was intended to draw Latino voters, it would likely fall short. In his first campaign for governor, he avoided being identified as a Latino leader by doing things like endorsing Arizona’s immigration statutes. Latino voters returned the love, voting against him in a landslide, giving him just 15 percent of their votes. He’ll no doubt do better this year, but noncompetitive races never provide as compelling evidence as real campaigns.
Sandoval is pro-choice, a leftover from his days as a Republican moderate before he started retailoring his image for the vice presidency. But that single issue alone might be enough to spark a floor fight at the convention against his nomination. At any rate, it would cause the old evangelical wing of the party (anti-abortion) to grate against the emerging Paulist libertarian wing (proabortion).
So, for that matter, would his stance on marriage equality, which is all over the map — pro, con, and wait-and-see. He has supported civil unions but not marriage, but has also agreed to end the state’s defense in court of its antimarriage equality law.
That’s one issue he could probably finesse, at least with political pros if not true believers. After all, no one anticipated how rapidly the nation would change its mind on the issue.
But the way his governorship preserved Nevada’s position at the wrong end of all those quality of life national rankings will be more difficult to gloss over.
Dennis Myers is a veteran and Nevada journalist.