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October 2, 2014

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Brian Sandoval the favorite now, but he trails in money race

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AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal, Candice Towell

Former federal judge and gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval celebrates his victory over incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons in the party primary at the Garden Shop Nursery in Reno on Tuesday, June, 8, 2010. Standing by during his acceptance speech is his wife, Kathleen, and children, James, Maddie, and Marisa.

Democratic Nominee For Governor Rory Reid

Democratic nominee for governor Rory Reid talks during the party's primary night celebration.

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Rory Reid, Democratic candidate for governor, and his wife Cindy vote at Greenspun Middle School Tuesday, June 8, 2010.

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Which would you rather have: a $2 million lead in fundraising or a 14-point lead in the polls?

Democrat Rory Reid has the money and Republican Brian Sandoval has the edge with voters — so far — as they enter the long general election race for governor.

Despite Democratic hopes and liberal groups spending more than $600,000 on ads targeting Sandoval, he won Tuesday’s primary handily over incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon.

He emerges in a position that’s become familiar during his charmed political career, which has included stints as an assemblyman and attorney general — as the favorite.

Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission, will have more than low poll numbers to overcome. He also has the challenge of sharing the top of the Democratic ticket with his father, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a political cycle that has so far favored the party out of power — Republicans — and featured an anti-incumbent mood. Voters’ fatigue with the father could hurt the son.

Sandoval, meanwhile, will likely have time to raise money.

Four years ago, Dina Titus emerged from the Democratic gubernatorial primary battered and cash-poor. Gibbons took advantage, spending on TV commercials that defined Titus as a tax raiser before she had the money to respond.

That primary, however, was in September. Unanswered is whether voters are paying enough attention in June to care about attack ads when they won’t vote for another five months. If they don’t, Sandoval will have time to raise money and respond should Rory Reid tap his war chest to go on the attack.

In an interview Tuesday, Reid said, “There’s no sense keeping score before you start playing. I’ve been on the sidelines. Now the debate will start.”

He said he will offer a budget and “detailed vision” for the state. He pointed to his plan to reform education. “Brian wants to cut education,” he said of Sandoval.

Reid then said what will likely be a campaign theme: “They may have a new Republican, but Brian Sandoval is Jim Gibbons with a better suit.”

Without a doubt, Sandoval had to work harder for Tuesday’s victory than expected, while Reid coasted past token opposition in his primary.

Democrats with ties to Reid focused their attacks on questioning Sandoval’s conservative credentials, hoping it would either boost Gibbons enough for him to win the primary or soften up Sandoval for the general election.

For a time, the ads seemed to have an effect. Polls showed Gibbons, the more vulnerable Republican candidate against Reid in a general election, pulling close to Sandoval.

Then two things happened: Sandoval spent his money and pushed back; and Gibbons’ troubled personal life came to the fore again as he was caught returning from a trip to the White House with the woman he famously texted repeatedly from a state phone.

The national Democratic Governors Association, which spent $500,000 on the campaign against Sandoval, declared the ads a success because Sandoval had to tack to the right to fend off Gibbons.

Indeed, Sandoval said he would never under any circumstance support a tax increase (in an interview on first lady Dawn Gibbons’ radio show) and backed the controversial Arizona immigration law.

Moderate Republicans and some Democrats who supported Sandoval worried how he would walk back from those positions in the general election. Some Hispanics said they would have difficulty supporting Sandoval, the first Hispanic elected to statewide office in Nevada.

“A majority of the Hispanic community in general are not happy with him at all,” said Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics. “I doubt very seriously if he can persuade those of us who are disgruntled with him to come around.”

Dan Hart, a former political consultant to Reid who ran the outside group attacking Sandoval, said it was clear that Sandoval had responded directly to the attacks.

“I’d suggest that people know more about Brian Sandoval than he’d like them to know,” Hart said, noting that Sandoval’s unfavorable ratings have climbed. “He turned hard right in the primary with his message. Now he’s going to try to come back to the middle.”

Sandoval’s ads boasted of his conservative positions, Hart noted. “That’s not a message for a general election, and the unfortunate thing for him is that the audience who saw those ads weren’t just Republican primary voters. Independents, Democrats, as a result of those ads, have questions about his qualifications or his political positions.”

Sandoval’s campaign, meanwhile, says he wasn’t pandering on taxes or immigration — that his statements in the primary reflected his core beliefs.

Indeed, his opposition to taxes and hard-line stance on immigration may be what voters want to hear.

Unless Reid can make the case to voters that Sandoval’s policies will be bad for Nevada, it may not matter if Sandoval did indeed run to the right.

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