The Ballad of the Republican Governors

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has decided not to run for president, at least this time. How does this affect the Nevada Republican caucus and campaign in the coming year?

Nationally, Republicans seem desperate to find a way not to nominate Mitt Romney. The Tea Party and the Republican right—not always the same—have embraced Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Ron Paul at various times. Now they seem to be trying to find a way to annul their brief marriage to Rick Perry, whose bumbling performance at the most recent major GOP debate induced buyer’s remorse (instead of realizing America really can’t afford another governor of Texas to be president, at least for a while).

Nevada presents a different situation. Gov. Brian Sandoval has been trying to rebuild the state GOP organization, which has been in serious trouble for several years, and certainly well behind the Democratic Party in the nuts-and-bolts of campaigning. He also did his best to keep Sharron Angle out of campaigns and assure Dean Heller a safe haven in his quest to remain in the Senate.

But recently Sandoval took two steps that may be questionable, now and in retrospect. One, he denied interest in the vice presidency. Since his interest in it had been well-known, why change? Or did he? Recently, the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre said his proof that Barack Obama wants to eliminate gun rights is that he hasn’t tried to eliminate gun rights. By that logic, if you can call it that, Sandoval declared his candidacy for vice president.

His other action was to endorse Perry for president. Apparently, they got along well as fellow Western Republican governors (Texas being big enough to be both a Southern and Western state and, if Perry had his way, its own country), and Romney was less attentive to Sandoval than he should have been. Given those feelings, Romney’s nomination probably wouldn’t lead to a Sandoval vice presidential candidacy anyway. More to the point, since Texas is understandably a focal point for interest in immigration from Mexico, and Nevada has a significant Hispanic population, Perry welcomed a Sandoval endorsement.

Now that’s looking less like a wise move and more like Sandoval deciding too quickly. Especially considering that if Perry really is in trouble, Romney is back to having the inside track, if not for the nomination then certainly in Nevada. He figures to do well among Mormons and conservatives, while Paul should pull some of the libertarian and strongly anti-government support. All of which wouldn’t make Sandoval look that good—or at least that shrewd—to the national party.

Meanwhile, Republicans have been quiet about who might run for the House districts still being determined. State Sen. Barbara Cegavske reportedly is thinking about it, since she’s not up for re-election this year, she’s term-limited after that, and the rumbling is that she will lose the battle for the party leadership post to a first-termer, Michael Roberson. The GOP also is said to be casting about desperately for a Hispanic Republican to have on the ballot, but no one is sure yet who or where.

All of which suggests that while Democrats are justly famous for their divisions—Will Rogers had it right when he said he didn’t belong to an organized political party, he was a Democrat—Nevada Republicans are excited about taking on their opponents, but less united on how to go about it.

Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.