Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) won’t seek an endorsement from the state Republican Party following a change in party rules, opening a new front in an ideological war that has divided the state GOP.
Last week, the state GOP said a 16-member GOP committee plans to interview candidates and review answers to a 13-question survey before bestowing endorsements.
Most state parties don’t issue endorsements, especially in competitive primary contests. But ever since chairman Michael McDonald and activists loyal to former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) took over the Nevada party, the relationship between party leaders and their elected officials has been sour.
Sandoval, state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson and state Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey said they would not participate in the interview process with state party officials.
“I won’t be submitting a response to the questionnaire,” Sandoval told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think that the committee can look at my record over the past three years and through the Legislature and be able to answer any question with regard to my position as governor.”
Sandoval’s top political adviser was more blunt “Last time I checked, there is already a GOP endorsement process. It’s called a primary, where all Republicans have a voice,” Mike Slanker said in an e-mail.
Sandoval has angered some Nevada conservatives by working to establish a state health-care insurance exchange and for continuing some tax hikes to plug state budget holes. But he faces only token opposition, both in the Republican primary and in the general election in November. Sandoval’s approval rating remains one of the highest for any incumbent governor seeking re-election.
There is little love lost between Sandoval and the conservatives who run the state Republican Party. In December, Sandoval and Sen. Dean Heller (R) backed a candidate challenging McDonald, an unusually public split between party leaders. McDonald won, even with Sandoval and Heller weighing in.
Insiders say the endorsement process is less about Sandoval than about the person who might eventually replace him. In the race to replace outgoing Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Sandoval is supporting state Sen. Mark Hutchison (R), while McDonald’s allies are backing former state Sen. Sue Lowden (R), who is running to Hutchison’s right.
Lowden fell short in her bid to run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010, losing the GOP primary to former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R). Sandoval allies think the state GOP’s endorsement process is aimed at helping Lowden, and hurting Hutchison.
The race is important to Sandoval allies because Reid’s seat is on the ballot again in 2016. Republicans pushing Sandoval to challenge Reid believe the governor won’t run if leaving Carson City means a Democrat would take over.
Behind the scenes, Reid is hoping to recruit a top-level candidate to make sure Sandoval has a Democratic lieutenant governor. Reid has pushed Assemblywoman Lucy Flores (D), who is still considering the race.
She will have to hurry: Candidate filing opens March 3 and runs for 11 days.