POLITICS

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval seems headed to an easy win this year - and maybe much more

  • Surrounded by lawmakers and staff members, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signs into law an unprecedented package of incentives to bring Tesla Motors' $5 billion battery factory to the state, at the Capitol, in Carson City, Nev., on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

    Surrounded by lawmakers and staff members, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signs into law an unprecedented package of incentives to bring Tesla Motors' $5 billion battery factory to the state, at the Capitol, in Carson City, Nev., on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

  • Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval in a 2011 file photo.

    Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval in a 2011 file photo.  (2011 Getty Images)

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is heading into November’s midterm election with such strong polling numbers and popularity that the Democratic party did not even bother to put up a serious challenger.

Bob Goodman, who was former Gov. Mike O’Callaghan’s director of economic development in the 1970s, is the party's official candidate, though polls show him trailing the governor by double digits.

Goodman won the Democratic primary with 25 percent of the vote, five points behind the "None of These Candidates" option that appears on Nevada ballots; Sandoval clinched the GOP one with 90 percent. 

Goodman knows a victory at this point seems like a pipe dream but says he is running for the sake of democracy.

The reigning Democratic potentate of Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told reporters earlier this year that he tried but failed to persuade better-known Democrats in the state to take on Sandoval.

Sandoval, 51, is basking in the glow of an improving economy and a deal that will bring Tesla Motors’ battery manufacturing gigafactory to the Reno area, a move with the potential to bring $100 billion into the state. Sandoval’s economic advisors say the Tesla deal also could create tens of thousands of jobs in Nevada.

The deal not only raised Sandoval’s stock in the state, it also gave him a national sheen and buzz about loftier political positions in the future.

“Can a more perfect Republican dream team be imagined going into 2016 than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval?” began a recent blog post in The Hill.

Polls show Sandoval winning re-election with 56 percent support, compared to 34 percent for Goodman, with 10 percent not committing to either candidate yet.

Sandoval, who is of Mexican descent, is also expected to do better this time among Latino voters, only a third of whom voted for him in 2010.

Recent polls show Sandoval leading among Latinos, 54-39.

The governor, who is considered centrist on most key issues, gained more Latino support after backing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants – something he opposed several years ago.

Sandoval also initially favored Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, and angered many Latinos when it was reported that he answered an Univision reporter’s question about how he would respond if the measure led to his kids being profiled with the comment, “My children don’t look Hispanic.”

At first, he denied making the comment, but a few days later issued a statement allowing that, "I don’t remember saying it, and it is most certainly not how I feel. If I did say those words, it was wrong and I sincerely regret it. I am proud of my heritage and my family."

Nevada columnist Eddie Escobedo wrote in 2010, “By declaring that he is in favor of SB 1070 and against driving privileges for the undocumented, Brian Sandoval is distancing himself from causes that are of interest ... to the Hispanic community.”

He also back-tracked a bit on SB 1070, saying that while it may have been fitting for Arizona, it was not right for Nevada.

Sandoval’s efforts to smooth things over with Latinos seems to have paid off.

Hispanics In Politics, Nevada’s oldest Latino political organization, is now endorsing Sandoval – a change from 2010 when it refused to support him, viewing his stances as contrary to the best interests of the community.

“Four years ago, because of the unfortunate matter of SB 1070 in Arizona, we couldn’t, as a Hispanic organization, go forth with an endorsement for Brian Sandoval,” Fernando Romero, the president of the organization, told Fox News Latino

“He hasn’t really opposed SB 1070, but said it wouldn’t work here. And he has supported several laws which would be beneficial for our community – the driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, he got $40 million in extra funding for English language learner programs.”

Romero, who identifies himself as a Democrat, explained, “In 2010, the Latino community was not very happy with Sandoval that he went for SB 1070. Now I think he will double his support among Latinos.”

While Sandoval has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016, the national-level office he is seen as most likely to pursue in the near future is that of U.S. senator.

A poll this summer showed him beating Reid by 10 points in a hypothetical race for the majority leader's seat.

That is one reason, political experts say, that Reid has given so much support to Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, a Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor.

If Flores wins in November, she would become governor in the event that Sandoval didn’t serve out his term – something that many say would be a deterrent to him running against Reid.

Another may have to do with the fact that in 2010 Sandoval defeated Reid’s son, Rory, by nearly double digits.

Goodman, who is 79 and primarily a businessman these days, acknowledges that he is in an uphill battle, and he doesn’t hide his disgust with the state Democratic party's decision not to give him the support and resources he would need to run a competitive race against Sandoval.

“That’s what made me unhappy,” Goodman said to Fox News Latino. “Democracy was what was losing” in their decision to essentially concede the election to Sandoval.

“There are more Democrats than Republicans in Nevada,” Goodman said. “If all Democrats voted, I’d win. But people aren’t really motivated, even though a lot of people are mad at how I’ve been treated by the Democratic party.”

He calls Sandoval a “photo op” governor – photogenic and smooth.

Goodman says he went to members of the casino industry to try to get their support, but the response was that  they'd already promised it to Sandoval.

"Then why do we even have an election?" Goodman asks. "Just change the law and become the emperor."

Yes, there’s the Tesla deal, he admits, but he thinks Nevada made too many concessions to land the factory.

“When you negotiate, you negotiate from strength,” he said. "We have a wonderful state, we didn’t have to promise them so much.”

Sandoval was born in Redding, Calif. He has broken many barriers in the Silver State, serving on the Nevada Assembly and the Gaming Commission and becoming the first Latino to hold statewide office. He has served also as the state’s attorney general and a U.S. District Court judge.

Brock McCleary, who is the former polling director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, says Sandoval has managed to appeal to a cross-section of constituents, including Democrats, independents and Latinos.

“Forty percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of him,” said McCleary, whose firm, Harper Polling, has surveyed Nevada voters on their midterm election views. “You don’t get that support, as a Republican, if you govern strictly along party lines.”

“He’s governed in a way that is perceived as inclusionary,” McCleary told FNL. “Being a Hispanic Republican from an important purple state like Nevada, and showing he can bring Hispanics into the Republican coalition, and that he can govern in such a way the brings other people in, could bring a promising career in national politics.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.