MY COLUMN: The Reid-Sandoval matchup: Total fantasy or real possibility?

News item: Gov. Brian Sandoval leads Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by 53-43 in a hypothetical 2016 Senate matchup

Imagine a collective Republican cry of ecstasy.

Whatever sound that makes, it reverberated across the interwebs last week after I posted the first public results of the race Republicans dream will happen: The manifestly popular Sandoval vs. the serially unpopular Harry Reid.

By week’s end, numerous conservative blogs had published the results, which also showed Reid with a 55 percent unfavorable rating. The post had been tweeted 200 times by week’s end. The celebration had begun: The prince is dead; long live the king.

Of course, as with any survey, some questioned the numbers. The pollster is Republican. It’s a robopoll. It can’t be right.

The funniest comment came from Reid, who told Manu Raju of Politico: “I thought he would be up by more.”

I actually think Reid, whose response was classic, wry Prince Harry, was serious. I thought he would be down by more, too. One smart Democrat I asked what he thought the margin would be in such a hypothetical matchup said he thought more than 20 percentage points.

So what does it mean?

The release of this poll would seem a propitious time to lay out what the chances really are of a Sandoval-Reid confrontation in 2016 and whether the governor really would be a prohibitive favorite. (It’s also summertime of an off-year, when the pundit livin’ is easy, and thumbsuckers are just asking to be penned.)

Let’s start with my conclusions and work backwards from there: I do not think Sandoval will run for the U.S. Senate, but I would not bet a Ritz-Carlton condo on it. I also think Reid will seek a sixth term, but I would not bet the proceeds from his Searchlight house sale on that, either.

I’m reasonably sure of both conclusions, but I don’t think Sandoval deciding to run or Reid electing to retire are impossible. Only unlikely.

Here’s why:

Sandoval loves being governor, as much as any chief executive I have covered, and that’s saying something. He relishes nearly every aspect of the job, except engaging with the media in a meaningful way. Does he EVER really make news?

Sandoval is the most cocooned governor I have covered in more than a quarter-century. His advisers are very jealous of his carefully cultivated image, which is fairly pristine. Sandoval has been slugged a few times – the Greyhound therapy debacle and the Obamacare exchange nightmare – but he never gets a black eye. Sandoval is like Wolverine; his wounds immediately heal and are forgotten.

And you cannot underestimate Sandoval's winning personal style. His earnestness makes Eddie Haskell look like a piker. His natural affability and political dexterity help explain, perhaps define his overwhelming popularity.

That’s why I think Reid may be right that he actually may be losing to Sandoval by more than 10 percentage points and that the governor's 30 percent unfavorable number in that poll may be high. Sandoval, as I have written many times, also has benefited from inept opposition from leaderless Democrats, who have been the Washington Generals to his Globetrotters.

He will win re-election in a landslide and have a chance to leave his mark, surely shifting to the moderate, consensus-builder that is who he really is. The governor might even be able to make the Democrats look competent while leaving a lasting legacy.

That could take two legislative sessions, a full four years. And even if it doesn’t, Sandoval, I’m reliably told, is not interested in diving into the DC swamp, especially having to get past the most cutthroat pol Nevada has seen. There would be blood; Harry Reid is not Mo Denis.

Sandoval, I’m occasionally told, misses the federal bench and may want another federal appointment. He also surely is aware of history: No Nevadan has ever been in a presidential Cabinet. A president of either party elected in November 2016 might call on him, perhaps as Interior secretary.

So he’ll wait.

One caveat, and perhaps not an unimportant one: After Sandoval wins with 65 percent-plus of the vote in November, maybe winning a record-setting percentage of the Hispanic vote for a statewide Republican, the entreaties will pour in from national Republicans.

“Please run against Reid,” they will say. “Your country needs you, governor.”

I don’t think he will succumb. But Sandoval has a history of leaving jobs for better opportunities. He left the Assembly to become a state gaming commissioner. He left the Gaming Commission to run for attorney general. He left the federal bench, where Reid had helped install him in one of Nevada's most delicious historical ironies, to run for governor.

So Sandoval leaving the governorship at midterm strikes some as part of a familiar career pattern, a man with political ADD who might turn his attention Eastward. History does repeat itself and might here, too.

Despite this, I continue to believe Sandoval does not  want to be a U.S. senator. History is littered with governors who went to Washington and regretted it.

Don't forget how young Sandoval is, too. He will only be 51 when he is re-elected in November. Plenty of time for several more career changes or, as I would wager, a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

As for Reid, I believe he will run next cycle unless his health or his wife's health deteriorates. He seems healthy enough, with only that mini-stroke nine years ago and no obvious problems since. The majority leader seems to lose his train of thought once in awhile, even on the Senate floor. But he can still be sharp-witted and on message, and he still relishes the hurly burly of political combat.

As for Landra Reid, she has had some serious issues, including a broken neck and breast cancer, but from all accounts is doing much better. The last time I saw her, she looked very well.

Some believe Reid may decide to pack it in if the Democrats lose the Senate in November. One national journalist recently told me that New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, always presumed to have his long knife out of the sheath, will make a play for leader regardless of November’s outcome. But those rumors arise as often as John McCain is on a Sunday news program.

Reid will not lose his scepter in a coup; someone who tries may lose a leadership position or chairmanship. But Reid won’t be deposed.

I also think that if Reid were to be demoted to minority leader, he would be even more eager to run to regain the majority slot. No one wants to retire a loser.

Reid simply is not the kind of guy who will hang his shingle on K Street or come back to Nevada to put up his feet and watch Bryce Harper go yard. That’s not who he is.

One very knowledgeable Democratic pol I talked to recently isn’t so sure I’m right. He saw the move from Searchlight to Vegas as an adumbration of Reid easing into retirement. Closer to the kids and grandkids, ready to pack it in. Maybe.

But Reid's real home, the place that gives him sustenance and keeps him going, is the Senate floor. He will be there as long as he can be.

Reid is only 74, which is like 14 in Senate years. He’s a pup. And if the Democrats hold the majority in November, he will set his eye on Mike Mansfield's record of 16 years as majority leader, which Reid could break if he wins one more term.

The truth about Harry Reid is that he may already have decided not to run. But the inscrutable, calculating majority leader would never telegraph it to anyone, maybe even his family, and he would wait until the last possible moment to anoint a successor and announce his retirement. It’s not happening yet, but I suppose it could.

I freely acknowledge that I would love to see the Sandoval-Reid matchup. Reid was considered a corpse in 2010, and his numbers are arguably worse now against someone who is the opposite of Sharron Angle: talented, telegenic, popular.

But Team Reid is the best in the business, leaving nothing to chance, ruthless and relentless. Team Sandoval also has formidable talent, and some of them surely think their man is a lock against Reid.

That’s just the way the majority leader and his folks like it. I’ve seen Reid-Santini, Reid-Ensign and Reid-Angle. Reid-Sandoval might beat them all.

I just don’t think it will happen.