Brian Sandoval’s easy reelection win already has political spectators thinking about 2016 – and a possible showdown between the popular Republican governor and Nevada’s powerful Democratic senator, Harry Reid.
Everything seemed to work in Sandoval’s favor Tuesday night: He easily won reelection and the lieutenant governor’s seat was won by Republican State Sen. Mark Hutchison over Democratic Assemblywoman Lucy Flores. He received 47 percent of the Latino vote in Nevada, a significant jump from 2010 when he got 15 percent.
The result of that race was important because the person in the lieutenant governor’s seat would fill in as governor if Sandoval decides to step down in order to challenge Reid.
For Reid, everything seemed to work against him Tuesday night. With Republicans gaining control of the senate, he lost his influential seat as Senate majority leader, a post he held for seven years.
And Reid had thrown his support solidly behind Flores, who lost 58-33 despite the senator’s active campaigning on her behalf throughout the state.
But whether Sandoval could ride his wave of victory to unseat one of the country’s most powerful senators in two years remains a very open question.
“Sandoval has a lot of options when it comes to 2016 that would have not been there had things gone differently Tuesday night,” Fernando Romero, the president of Hispanics in Politics told Fox News Latino.
A poll taken by Harper Polling this summer showed that Sandoval would lead Reid 53 percent to 43 percent in a hypothetical race between the two.
Jose Dante Parra, a Democratic political analyst who worked on Flores’ campaign this year and for Reid in 2010, told FNL, “I’m not worried about Reid at all… Adversity propels him. He is one of the greatest long-term political strategists I’ve ever seen.”
One of the examples of that acumen that Parra cites has to do with Latino voters.
“Reid used to go to all these Hispanic community events, and people would tell him, ‘Why are you wasting your time? A lot of those people can’t or won’t vote.’ But it paid off big for him in 2010,” Parra said.
He says that if Reid and Sandoval do face off in 2016, Reid would win the Latino vote handily. “The Hispanic operation he’s built up over the years is terrific,” Parra told FNL. “Sandoval has a last name, but that doesn’t make you the defender of the community… Reid has the track record.”
Sandoval is one of a number of telegenic Latino lawmakers who have risen to prominence over the past few years within the Republican Party. While he is mentioned more in the second tier for a 2016 presidential run than his GOP compatriots like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Sandoval has built a strong following in Nevada as the state recovers from a crippling economic recession.
The 51-year old former state lawmaker, attorney general and federal judge has become popular among Nevada’s growing Latino population – 27.5 percent of the state, according to the most recent census figures – thanks to his more moderate views than some of his fellow Republicans, especially when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform.
This is a big change from a few years ago when Sandoval incurred the wrath of other Latinos in his state when he supported outgoing Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer’s controversial SB 1070 immigration law.
Sandoval has since eased his support on that law – saying that it would not work in Nevada – and has signed a number of laws that are strongly supported by the state’s Latino population, including a bill allowing immigrants here illegally to obtain a driver's privilege card. He also supported the Senate’s push for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform back on 2013.
“The Senate’s vote today is a sign of hope for those millions of people across the United States who are counting on us to make sure that the window to opportunity always remains open to everyone,” Sandoval said back in June of 2013.
“I am confident that Congress can work together to achieve immigration reform that is good for both parties and good for America. I stand ready to work with Nevadans and Americans to secure a better day for our state and our country.”
One of the biggest coups for Sandoval – and his chances of running for the U.S. Senate in 2016 – was Hutchinson’s victory in the lieutenant governor’s race.
The governor stumped frequently for him, pitching himself and Hutchinson as a two-man team during campaign stops.
Or, as Parra put it, “Hutchinson gripped onto Sandoval’s coattails as hard as he could.”
Flores, 34, who turned her life around from her teenage years as a gang member, had been touted by Reid and other Democratic lawmakers as a rising star in the party.
“She gave it the old college try but if you lose by that large of a margin it’s tough to mount a comeback,” Romero said.
Despite all the talk of Sandoval’s political future, the newly reelected governor attempted Tuesday night to brush off any speculation about his purported senate run and instead focused his speeches on his next term as governor.
"I'm looking forward to serving another four years,” Sandoval told the Associated Press before a speech in front of supporters in Las Vegas. “I'm going to continue to work hard, and there is a lot of work to be done. We've got to work on education, K-12, and keep the economy moving."