CARSON CITY, Nev. – There may be no man Republicans despise more than Nevada's Harry Reid, the soft-spoken, bludgeon-wielding Democratic leader of the United States Senate.
There may be no one as well positioned, at least on paper, to oust Reid when he comes up for reelection in 2016 than Brian Sandoval, the state's hugely popular Republican governor.
And there may be no greater disappointment for Republicans if, as Sandoval seems to indicate, he is likely to pass on the race.
Sandoval is cakewalking to a second term in November. Ideally, from the perspective of party strategists, he would pause only for Thanksgiving dinner — if then — before plunging into the race against Reid, who has already declared his intention to seek a sixth term.
Among Sandoval's attributes are his relative youth — he is 50 to Reid's 74 — his distinction as the first Latino governor of a state with a burgeoning Latino population and, not least, an easygoing, hard-not-to-like personality that offers a ready contrast with the gloves-off, fists-up Reid.
(Important caveat: Nevada is strewn with the desiccated bones of those who have previously underestimated the majority leader's capacity for political survival.)
For all his advantages, however, Sandoval hardly sounds like someone preparing for a tooth-and-claw fight for a Senate seat in dysfunctional Washington. Part of that, of course, is common sense: there is no quicker way to alienate voters than to take their support for granted. Sandoval, after all, still has an election to win in November, even if he faces token opposition.
But Sandoval is no Reid-basher, either. In an interview in his cozy office — Nevadans aren't big on government spending, a sensibility reflected in their compact Capitol — he said the two speak often and collaborate well, citing their recent work on economic development and transportation projects.
He stated the obvious, which only the most rabid partisan would deny: "It is good to have the majority leader" of the Senate come from Nevada, "regardless of party." (A line one can easily see resurfacing in Reid's campaign advertising.)
Sandoval also spoke at length about personal considerations. He and his wife have three children — the two youngest are several years away from college — and she has a successful career directing a local nonprofit that serves disadvantaged youth. That, Sandoval said, is something "I have to be mindful of."
Above all, he suggested he could do more and do more good for Nevada staying where is, regardless of whatever Senate committee assignments he was promised. "It's about service for me," Sandoval said. "It's not about the title; it's not about beating somebody. It's about being able to make a difference and I feel like I can make the biggest difference here."
There was this qualifier when Sandoval was asked about the pressure that will inevitably be brought to bear when Republicans in Washington begin a serious recruitment effort. "As we sit here today… everything that I just said," he reiterated. "I love this job, I want to hopefully get reelected by the people of this state and continue to get us where we need to be."
That was the sound of a door cracked open ever so slightly. So let the speculation — and the pressure — keep building.