Meet Brian Sandoval, Nevada’s Party Pooper He may be the most popular Republican in the country. So why does it feel like every GOP candidate is running in the other direction?

brian-sandoval-bongLast June, on a school playground in Las Vegas, a Republican governor plopped into a chair before a folding metal table, applied a gray pen to a slip of paper, and broke into a jaunty grin while a throng of elementary students clapped politely. With that signature, Brian Sandoval passed part of an education package derived from an enormous tax increase well north of a billion dollars, the largest tax hike in the 151-year history of Nevada.
Since then, Sandoval has found himself somewhat lonely on the Republican stage—which is ironic, perhaps, for a handsome, hugely popular Latino star in a party eager to showcase its Hispanic credentials, a man who has been leading a state that has been thoroughly combed for months by Republican presidential candidates ahead of the Nevada caucuses on Tuesday. Only a week ago in South Carolina, the endorsement of another high-wattage GOP star, Nikki Haley, was huge news and may well have turned the tide of the race—or at least driven Jeb Bush out when Haley crushed his hopes by endorsing his rival Marco Rubio.
But the courting of Sandoval, if you can call it that, has been a far more subtle affair for the GOP presidential candidates. He is in the unenviable position of being seen as an ideological apostate who simultaneously boasts approval ratings in the high-to-mid 60s. When the general election comes, Sandoval’s endorsement will be desperately needed; Democrats privately fear he could be a potent weapon to drive Latino and Hispanic turnout. But in an unpredictable and highly partisan GOP caucus, with many conservative Republicans alleging betrayal by Sandoval over his historic tax hike and threatening revolt, the endorsement of the Nevada governor is seen as more of a headache than a helpmate. And no one is quite sure what to do about him.
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