Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) on Tuesday formally ended speculation that he would seek an open U.S. Senate seat, robbing Republicans of perhaps the closest thing they had to a sure bet in 2016.
“My heart is in my responsibilities as Governor and continuing to build the New Nevada,” Sandoval said in a statement posted on his campaign website. “My undivided attention must be devoted to being the best Governor, husband and father I can be.”
In truth, few Republicans expected Sandoval to run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D). Sandoval, serving his second term as governor after winning re-election in 2014 with 70 percent of the vote, showed little appetite for moving to Washington.
But national Republicans nonetheless made a concerted effort to get Sandoval in the race. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a close friend and political ally for two decades, led the quiet campaign to get Sandoval to reconsider.
“He has a real opportunity that most of us serving in the Senate don’t really have, and that’s the opportunity to use the United States Senate to do bigger and better things,” Heller said in an interview earlier this year. “In other words, I see him as a VP candidate. I see him as a justice. I see him as attorney general or a Cabinet member. Those are some real opportunities, depending on what he wants to do.”
Sandoval, however, is unlikely to be considered as a possible vice presidential running mate, or for a seat on the Supreme Court should a Republican win the White House next year: He is a supporter of abortion rights, still a litmus test issue for conservative Republican primary voters.
Sandoval waited until the end of Nevada’s legislative session, during which he shepherded a major tax package through his Republican-led, but sometimes recalcitrant legislature, to announce his decision.
His departure leaves Republicans with four possible contenders for the Senate race: Rep. Joe Heck, who recently met with the National Republican Senatorial Committee; Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison; former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki; and state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson.
Democrats have coalesced behind former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who announced her bid just days after Reid publicly urged her to enter the race.