Gov. Brian Sandoval: A Republican who knows how to win over Latinos

As the Republican Party continues its efforts to win over Latino voters, they could turn to one GOP leader for help: Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.…

Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval picked up only 15 percent of the Latino vote when he was first elected governor in 2010. This year, he won re-election with 47 percent of the Latino vote. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)

As the Republican Party continues its efforts to win over Latino voters, they could turn to one GOP leader for help: Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The first Latino to be elected governor in Nevada cruised to re-election on Tuesday. Sandoval will now serve a second term in a state that President Barack Obama carried in the last two presidential elections.

Among Latino voters, Sandoval made significant progress. He went from receiving 15 percent of the Latino vote in 2010 when he first ran for governor to getting 47 percent this year, according to exit polls conducted by Latino Decisions.

SEE ALSO: A record number of Latinos will serve in the U.S. House

Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, said the policies benefiting Latinos that Sandoval pushed for over the last four years is what made the biggest difference.

“He actually has a policy record that makes him more attractive now, four years later, than it did in 2010 when people were sort of unsure how he was engaged in many of these issues,” Barreto said in an interview with VOXXI.

For example, Sandoval was one of the few Republican governors who expanded Medicaid to provide health insurance for more low-income families. This is a top issue for Latinos given they face high uninsured rates.

In addition, Sandoval signed a bill to increase funding to help improve the academic performance of English language learners attending Nevada schools. And he also signed a bill to permit undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver authorization card that allows them to legally drive in the state.

Brian Sandoval

Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has been successful in making inroads with Latinos. (Photo by David Calvert for Bloomberg)

Furthermore, he changed his tone on immigration. In 2010, he was highly criticized by Latinos for supporting Arizona’s controversial immigration law known as SB 1070. But most recently Sandoval said he supports the Senate-approved immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Barreto added that what also made the difference in this election was the change in the political environment in Nevada. He explained that back in 2010, the tone on immigration that Republican Sharron Angle used as she ran against Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made it difficult for other Republican candidates to appeal to Latino voters.

In one television ad, Angle’s campaign featured dark-skinned immigrants sneaking across a chain link fence. These images were contrasted with images of white workers and families. The narrator warned that “illegals” were sneaking across the border and were “putting Americans’ safety and jobs at risk.”

“It really made the entire party look unfriendly to Latinos,” Barreto said about Angle’s tone on immigration. “With that out of the way this year, Sandoval was able to really improve and conduct more serious outreach to Latinos.”

SEE ALSO: Election results: How Latino candidates did in the midterm elections

Ruth Guerra, director of Hispanic media for the Republican National Committee, also praised the work Sandoval has done to appeal to Latino voters. She said the Republican governor has been effective in engaging directly with Latinos and listening to their concerns.

“It’s simply about showing up,” Guerra said. “When you show up, you communicate your message and you’re able to listen to the concerns of the community. You’re then able to take those issues that matter the most and act on them. I think that’s what Gov. Sandoval has done so, so well.”

Showing up and listening to Latinos is what Guerra said the Republican Party has been doing in its efforts to make inroads with Latinos since the 2012 election. She said these efforts also include hiring staff members to conduct Latino outreach work in 11 states with large Latino populations.

Sandoval isn’t just well-liked among Latinos. His approval ratings among all Nevada residents usually stay in the 60s, making him one of the most popular governors in the country.

The Republican Party has taken notice of Sandoval. He has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016. But political pundits say it’s more likely that Sandoval will run for Reid’s Senate seat in 2016.

Barreto said that while Sandoval would be a “very formidable candidate” for a Senate race in 2016, the Republican governor would face a tough challenge to defeat Reid. He said that’s because Latinos and Democrats — who would likely support Reid — tend to have higher voter turnout rates in presidential elections.

As for Guerra, she said she expects Sandoval will be successful in whatever path he decides to take moving forward.

“I think a lot of people look up to him and see the things that he has done in the state as governor, and we need that,” she said. “We need good leadership like that, whether it be in the Senate or the White House.”

SEE ALSO: What’s next for immigration now that Republicans control the Senate