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December 21, 2014

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How Sandoval’s campaign has opened the door for Rory Reid

Like many political observers gazing at the electoral map, I have had a hard time making out Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid’s path to victory in the governor’s race.

Mostly because of his last name (thanks, Dad) and his title (thanks, G-Stingers), Reid the Younger has absurdly high negatives he has not earned but are quite adhesive. He has trailed Brian Sandoval, he of the long resume and putative crossover appeal, in every poll, often by landslide margins.

Team Rory — for some reason he is emphasizing his first name a lot (sorry, Dad) — has issued policy papers, albeit with little political risk and imaginary funding sources. But the candidate of vision has not seen his poll numbers budge, an ominous sign that has given Sandoval backers a reason to believe he can’t lose.

Until now.

Frightened of being a sacrificial lamb roasted at a tea party, Sandoval has contorted himself so gymnastically on issues from taxation to illegal immigration to domestic partnerships that some have put out an APB for his backbone. Tacking to the right in a GOP primary is one thing — SOP. But Sandoval apparently is so afraid of riling the conservative base during a volatile year in which anger is brewing that he has created the worst of two worlds: He has not only had questions raised about his steadfastness, but he has taken positions, especially on taxes and immigration, that could create problems in a general election.

Whether those could be an antidote for the Democrats to the two-Reids’ toxicity is not yet clear. But after a rocky few weeks, and the Democrats suddenly sensing an opportunity and launching a third-party campaign against him, even the unthinkable has become thinkable: Sandoval losing in the primary.

Yes, Gov. Jim Gibbons, last week named to Time’s List of Least Influential People of 2010 shortly after being named to yet another worst governors list (hello, TV ad), still trails Sandoval in polls. And if need be, a couple of weeks of the greatest Gibbonsworld hits might finish him off.

Sandoval should still win the GOP primary, but only because the governor is so weak and because the former judge has posed as Gibbons on steroids. Some internal numbers in a recent Rasmussen poll (the surveys are controversial because of auto-dial technology) show Gibbons’ problem. The governor is viewed unfavorably by 42 percent of the GOP electorate, according to the poll, while Sandoval is not looked kindly upon by only 12 percent. That would seem to suggest game over, unless ex-North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon somehow plays spoiler (and he is more likely to draw from Gibbons).

Those Rasmussen numbers affect general election matchups, too, as Gibbons holds only 66 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of unaffiliated voters against Reid while Sandoval’s numbers are 84 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independent voters against the commission chairman.

So Sandoval remains the strongest general election contender in the field. For now. During the past few weeks, Sandoval has given Reid the Younger some ammunition to begin piercing his invincible veneer.

His never-new-taxes pledge, delivered, as could only happen in Nevada, to first lady Dawn Gibbons on her radio show is not just unrealistic, but there is also not a chance Sandoval actually believes it. How do I know? Because nobody with a triple-digit IQ believes it.

Then, after stating at the outset of his campaign that he supported domestic partnerships, Sandoval was confronted by the Nevada News Bureau’s exhumation of a 2002 “Marriage Protection Pledge” he signed that declared he would “oppose any government recognition or endorsement of marriage imitations.” So which is it?

Finally, 10 days ago during a debate in Reno, the piece de resistance: After previously having been exposed by the Sun’s J. Patrick Coolican as flip-flopping on driver’s licenses for undocumented folks, Sandoval said he supported the Arizona immigration law, under which a guy such as Brian Sandoval, if he were in the wrong place at the wrong time, might be asked for his papers. Suddenly, one of the raisons d’etre of a Sandoval candidacy, his crossover appeal to Hispanics, was in jeopardy.

The once-anointed next governor has to be worried — or should be worried — that the general election campaign will be about one question: Who is the real Brian Sandoval?

Yes, he’s still the favorite because Reid the Younger will continue to suffer from guilt by association. But could it be Campaign 2010’s cartography may have to be revised? Thanks to Sandoval’s chameleonlike changes, there’s a new line on the map, thin and hard to see though it may be, and it is labeled: Rory Reid’s path to victory.

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