Sandoval has invited the candidates to his office this week as they campaign ahead of Saturday’s caucuses. If they make the trip to Carson City, the four — Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum — can count on a smile and a firm handshake but no public stamp of approval.
“There isn’t a candidate that wouldn’t love to have his support, that’s for sure,” said Bob List, state Republican committeeman and a former Nevada governor who endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Sandoval was quick to endorse Texas Gov. Rick Perry in this year’s presidential race, only to see him drop out last month after dismal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Now, Sandoval is pledging his “full support” to whomever wins the party nomination. And he has recorded an automated phone message urging Nevada Republicans to vote in the caucuses — for any of the candidates.
Is Sandoval politically savvy or once bitten, twice shy?
Maybe a little of both.
“There’s a risk of getting behind another candidate,” said Robert Uithoven, a GOP strategist. “He’s doing the right thing in staying out of it at this point.”
After backing a loser once, avoiding the primary fray now allows Sandoval to harness his popularity and unleash it when the party needs it most — leading into November and the defining election against President Barack Obama. To that end, he’s focusing on being the state’s top GOP cheerleader.
Sandoval is also resisting rallying behind Romney even though most of the Republican establishment in Nevada is backing the former Massachusetts governor. Romney mentioned Sandoval during a Florida debate last month as being at the top of his list of possible Hispanic Cabinet members if he wins the White House.