Nevada governor’s loss sets up closely watched November contest
June 10, 2010
LAS VEGAS (AP) – The primary defeat of Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons ushers the end of a political career that became overshadowed by embarrassing missteps, personal turmoil and random circumstance.
His early departure also sets up what will be among the most watched and contested races this fall between two seasoned politicians vying to occupy the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.
Gibbons, 65, a former combat pilot who served in both Vietnam and the first Gulf War, became the first incumbent governor in state history to lose a nominating election. He was defeated Tuesday by Brian Sandoval, 46, a former federal judge, state assemblyman, Nevada Gaming Commission and attorney general.
The lifetime appointment to the bench that Sandoval left in September was made possible by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who recommended him for the post. Now Sandoval will take on Reid’s son, Rory Reid, chairman of the powerful Clark County Commission who easily won Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Sandoval quickly amassed a six-figure campaign war chest, and reported raising about $1.8 million total so far with $575,000 to launch the general election phase. Reid, who has been campaigning for more than a year, reported $4.4 million total, with $2.8 million on hand.
For Gibbons, the slide to the end of a two-decade political career that included 10 years in Congress began even before he was sworn in four years ago, when he was accused by a Las Vegas cocktail waitress of assault in a parking garage. No criminal charges were filed, but a civil lawsuit remains pending.
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He also faced corruption allegations when he was accused of improperly receiving gifts from a software company that received military contracts while he was in Congress. Gibbons was cleared by the Justice Department in the case that included fabricated e-mails, but Gibbons suffered the consequences of months of negative headlines.
Midterm he filed for divorce from his wife of 22 years, claiming incompatibility. She accused him of affairs with a former Playboy model and the wife of a Reno doctor whom he admitted exchanging more than 800 text messages with on his state cell phone. The women and Gibbons denied the first lady’s accusations of infidelities.
He could never shake the publicity of his personal life.
“If timing is everything in politics, Gibbons came up short,” said Eric Herzik, political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“It’s not one thing. People will say, ‘I don’t care about the divorce. I don’t care about his texting.’
“It’s not like one of these items tipped the scale, but the composite was, what’s going on with this guy?” he said.
Gibbons said he will support Sandoval in the general election, and pledged a smooth transition in November regardless of the victor.
The next governor will face a bleak budget outlook, with some officials projecting a $3 billion shortfall when lawmakers convene in 2011. Nevada’s unemployment rate hit a record 13.7 percent in April, and the state leads the nation in foreclosures and bankruptcies.
“We know the real work lies ahead,” Sandoval told supporters Tuesday night.
He has the support of Gibbons’ predecessor, former Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, who pushed through an $800 million tax package in 2003.
“It’s time for us to reflect on what we can all do together to help Nevada,” Guinn said, saying Sandoval will bring together Republicans, Democrats and independent voters.
The race against Reid, he said, “will be tough.”
Reid, meanwhile, wasted no time trying to paint Sandoval as a continuation of Gibbons administration policies.
Sandoval, he said, “is only proposing more of the same Jim Gibbons-style leadership, including devastating cuts to education,” Reid said Wednesday.