In Speech, Can Sandoval Pull Latinos to the GOP?

In Speech, Can Sandoval Pull Latinos to the GOP?

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - August 28, 2012

TAMPA -- Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval will be the first of a handful of prominent Hispanic Republicans to address the GOP convention when he takes the stage in prime time Tuesday night.

The popular first-term governor is a rising star in a party with a growing list of up-and-comers to watch -- a roster that includes other Latinos, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. But Sandoval stands out in his own right. In fact, he might stand more toward the middle in a party steadily shifting rightward. He favors abortion rights, and recently worked with state Democrats to extend tax increases in Nevada, which earned him the wrath of Grover Norquist.

“He’s fairly moderate, so it will be interesting to see what a guy like that does in a speech to an audience that is expecting red meat,” says Jon Ralston, a political analyst in the Silver State who nick-named Sandoval “Governor Sunny” for his optimism in the face of a struggling economy. “Sandoval is not a red meat type of guy by nature. . . . He will be giving a prime-time speech at the most partisan event possible, and he is not naturally a partisan.”

But the optics bode well for a party whose chances of winning the White House depend on attracting many more Hispanic voters than it did four years ago.

Sandoval was briefly cited as a potential vice presidential candidate. He has Mexican roots and comes from a state with high unemployment, a place where Hispanics could help determine which party wins the six electoral votes at stake. He passed education reforms with a Democratic legislature, and has prioritized the issue. Mitt Romney cited Sandoval as a possible cabinet appointee when asked during a Republican Party debate earlier this year. And observers on both sides of the aisle often describe him as a genuinely affable politician. Still, his position on abortion was equally cited in VP discussions as an Achilles’ heel. Romney had indicated he would pick a pro-life supporter as his No. 2, and did so in choosing Paul Ryan.

“He knows how to get his way, he is a very skilful politician, and ran circles around Democrats in the legislative session,” says Ralston. “I think his image is hurt with the so-called national conservative leaders only because he is pro-choice.”

Last week, the GOP introduced a platform plank that bans abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Of course, the platform is a guide for the party and members often do not even read it, let alone subscribe to all of its tenets. The Romney-Ryan presidential ticket is pro-life but supports exceptions for rape, incest and health of the mother.

Sandoval is not the only Republican to disagree with his party on this issue: Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown penned a letter to the Republican National Committee chairman last week opposing that plank in the platform. Brown, though, is locked in a tight and difficult re-election campaign in a state Romney governed but is expected to lose badly. He is trying to distance himself from the GOP, while Sandoval might want to endear himself to it.

In 2005, President George W. Bush appointed Sandoval, a former attorney general, as a district judge -- a lifetime post. But in 2009, Sandoval gave up that position to run for governor. He was elected in 2010, defeating U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s son, Rory, by 11 points.

While Sandoval’s pro-choice stance might irk conservatives, his biography and reputation in a key battleground is heartening to Republicans trying to narrow the nearly 2-to-1 national deficit among Hispanic voters in 2008. It’s not clear, though, how much the governor can move those voters for Romney. As observers point out, Sandoval is not fluent in Spanish. In his governor’s race, 84 percent of Hispanic voters backed Reid, while just 15 percent supported Sandoval, according to exit polling. But with his Mexican ancestry, Sandoval might appeal to a broader swath of the Latino electorate than Rubio, a Cuban-American.

On Tuesday night, Sandoval plans to highlight the struggles of Hispanics in this economy. "I'll talk about Nevada families and businesses, particularly Hispanic businesses, and how they're being left behind by this administration,” the governor told Nevada reporters over the weekend, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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