Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) won reelection last November with more than 70 percent of the vote, a remarkable margin in a swing state. He's one of the most high-profile Hispanic elected officials in the GOP. And yet, almost no one is talking about Sandoval as a potential national candidate for Republicans in 2016 -- despite the fact that everyone else in the party is considering a run. So, what gives? I reached out to Jon Ralston, the king of Nevada political journalism, to answer that question -- and a few others. Our conversation is below, edited only for grammar.
FIX: You said Sandoval's State of the State address was one of the best speeches you'd heard. Why was it so good?
Ralston: States of the State are like States of the Union: They are usually boring, with maybe a rhetorical flourish or two, and quickly forgotten. Sandoval's, though, was a nearly perfect combination of rhetoric and substance. He accurately portrayed Nevada as a state that has made great strides in recovering from the recession and attracting companies such as Tesla to help diversify the economy. But he pointed out that to continue to move forward, the state needed to dramatically improve its educational system, which has always lagged behind. So he proposed both sweeping reforms and the largest tax increase in history. Bold, visionary and controversial.
FIX: Sandoval has a plan to raise taxes on the table. How does he sell that to Republicans?
Ralston: Carefully. There are some Republicans, including the state Senate majority leader, who agree with him that the educational system needs money. And it helps that the gaming industry generally supports the new business tax Sandoval proposed. But the problem is that the Assembly has some Republicans -- maybe approaching double digits -- who will never support a new tax on business, and some business groups will enable them. The question is whether Sandoval, through the force of his personality and through offering reforms the conservatives want in education, collective bargaining and tort reform, can cobble together enough votes to get it passed. I put it at only slightly better than 50-50.
FIX: Sandoval would start a race against Harry Reid as a favorite. But he doesn't seem interested in running. Why not?
Ralston: He doesn't want to be a U.S. senator. He loves being governor. He thinks it's a better job. You are the chief. You can control what happens much better as governor than senator. And he has laid out an ambitious agenda that may take four years to achieve. Politicians change their minds all the time. But it's hard to imagine the confluence of events that would get him to change his, despite the enormous pressure he will receive from D.C. And as he told me last week, would someone who wanted to be on a ballot have proposed the politically dicey plan he did in his speech?
FIX: Related: What DOES Sandoval want? This is a guy who walked away from a lifetime judgeship to be governor.
Ralston: Good question. He walked away from that judgeship ostensibly to save the state from [then-Gov.] Jim Gibbons's second term. But he told me last week that his plan to improve education, the ability to be there to do that, was the reason he left the bench. He seems totally focused on being governor. Those close to him say that's no pose. But he's young, and he's not just going to retire from public life even if he serves four years. I think he loved being a judge and still acts like one -- he's very deliberative, thoughtful, weighs all evidence before making a decision. He might consider an appointment to the Ninth Circuit, perhaps as a pathway to the Supreme Court. And no Nevadan has ever served in a presidential Cabinet -- I don't think he would turn down [Department of the Interior] or [Department of Energy] or even [attorney general] if offered, and he would be a candidate in the next administration for any or all, even if the next president is a Democrat. Sandoval scoffs at such notions, by the way, says it's all just speculation.
FIX: What's his biggest strength and biggest weakness if he ever does try to go national?
Ralston: I think if Sandoval were not pro-choice, he would have been mentioned more prominently as a candidate for the national ticket in '16. That is, before he proposed a billion-dollar tax increase! He has a formidable resume -- legislator, attorney general, federal judge. He also may be the most likable guy I have ever covered in Nevada politics, and he has great political skills. He's also Hispanic, which is a huge asset these days. I'd say that his biggest weakness, if he has one, if he tries to go national is what he has just proposed for his home state. The combination of taxes and reforms will hurt his sheen of invulnerability, and putting forth a tax on business and the largest tax increase in state history could be fatal to any national ambitions. I would consider his Buckeye love a handicap, but others would consider it a strength, especially if he were ever on a national ticket!