The Washington Post

In Nevada, the Republican governor who doesn’t completely hate Obamacare


Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (AP Photo/Kevin Clifford, File)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The biggest threat to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s future in the Senate isn’t the success or failure of the Affordable Care Act. Instead, it’s the Republican governor of Reid’s home state who has embraced Obamacare — or at least worked to implement it effectively.

Only eight states run by Republican governors moved to expand Medicaid to cover residents making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Only three states with Republican governors set up state-based health-care exchanges. Just two states led by Republicans — Nevada and New Mexico — did both. And Nevada is the only Republican-led state with an exchange that’s actually signing people up for insurance.

For Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), heading into an election year with sky-high approval ratings and the overwhelming favorite for a second term, embracing state benefits, even for a law as unpopular as the Affordable Care Act, was an easy decision.

“I historically was opposed to the law. And when the Supreme Court, Justice Roberts, made a decision, and it did, it’s the law of the land,” Sandoval said in an interview. “One of the options, the decision point, was, are we going to opt [for] the Medicaid [expansion], and are we going to have a state-based exchange or a federally-based exchange?”

Sandoval said that choosing to have a state-based exchange “was absolutely a no-brainer, that we would have Nevadans running a Nevada exchange, by Nevadans, for Nevadans.”

As for the results, he said: “People are getting on the site. They’re happy with it. They’re having a good experience. So I’m glad that we built a state-based exchange, because people in other states aren’t having that experience.”

More than 14,000 Nevadans have completed applications for health care reform through the state-based exchange, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half the number who are eligible to enroll in the marketplace. More than 28,500 have been deemed eligible for Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage.

Sandoval is occasionally mentioned as a possible candidate for national office. His status as a widely popular governor of a swing state — one that has trended increasingly blue in recent years — could make him an attractive nominee; the fact that he is Hispanic only works in his favor. His decision to embrace Medicaid expansion and the state exchange, however, may rob him of some of his luster, given the loathing that Republican voters feel for the Affordable Care Act.

But observers have always thought Sandoval would be on the 2016 ballot in a different capacity: running for Senate against Reid.

Republicans have longed for Sandoval to run against the Democratic incumbent for years. Sandoval was appointed to a federal judgeship by President George W. Bush, at Reid’s recommendation, a move seen at the time as the majority leader keeping a potentially strong opponent otherwise occupied. But Sandoval quit that post to run for governor in 2010, when he beat both a troubled Republican incumbent, Jim Gibbons, and Reid’s son, Rory.

With no strong Democrat running against him this year, Sandoval is once again at the top of the Senate Republicans’ recruitment list. He is likely to face enormous pressure to run against Reid if he wins reelection next year.

He’s not ready to declare just yet. Asked whether he would serve his full four-year term should he win reelection, Sandoval sounds unequivocal: “Yes. I love my job,” he said. “I love my job and I’m excited about the prospect of reelection.”

So that means he’s ruling out a Senate bid, halfway through that four-year term? “I haven’t even thought about that. I am exclusively thinking of reelection,” he said.

The next head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee should take note: That’s anything but a firm no.

The Senate majority leader is up for reelection in 2016—and a popular Republican may have just hinted that he's open to running. (Natalie Jennings/The Washington Post)
Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The Republicans debated Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Highlights from Saturday's GOP debate
Except for an eminent domain attack from Bush, Trump largely avoided strikes from other candidates.

Christie went after Rubio for never having been a chief executive and for relying on talking points.

Carson tried to answer a question on Obamacare by lamenting that he hadn't been asked an earlier question about North Korea.
The GOP debate in 3 minutes
Listen
Play Video
Quoted
We have all donors in the audience. And the reason they're booing me? I don't want their money!
Donald Trump, after the debate crowd at St. Anselm's College booed him for telling Jeb Bush to be "quiet."
Listen
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 38%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.