The 2006 general elections are shaping up as the most interesting and competitive for major Nevada offices in decades.
There are already contested races for most constitutional offices. The only major gap is a strong opponent for John Ensign, the Republican finishing his first term in the U.S. Senate. Jack Carter, son of the former president and a Las Vegas resident, is interested, but has not yet committed to run.
The hottest is the governor's race, with strong competition in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.
"You'd have to go back more than 20 years (to find a comparable one)," said University of Nevada, Reno political science professor Eric Herzik.
Jim Gibbons had a solid showing against Bob Miller in his 1994 bid for governor, but still lost by more than 40,000 votes. Gov. Kenny Guinn swamped opponents so badly in his two races that detractors started referring to him as "anointed."
It's a different story for 2006.
In his second attempt to become governor, Gibbons, who is leaving the U.S. House of Representatives after five terms, faces a surprisingly aggressive primary challenge from Las Vegas Sen. Bob Beers. Also in the GOP primary is Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt.
Although she must be considered a long shot, she's more likely to take votes from Gibbons than Beers.
As one of the anti-tax holdouts in 2003, Beers has cut into some of Gibbons' conservative base. Supporters have used the conservative Liberty Watch forum to accuse Gibbons of mere superficial loyalty to shrinking governmental growth, saying he has voted for far too many tax hikes, spending increases and pork bills both in the Nevada Legislature and Congress.
But Gibbons brings strong name recognition and constituent approval as a congressman - as well as a substantial war chest to the battle.
And, next to Beers, Gibbons is the moderate.
"The conservativeness of Nevada Republicans is way overplayed." Herzik said. "If you look at candidates like Beers and Sharron Angle (running for Gibbons' congressional seat), they have a strong base, but they rarely can get beyond that base."
"To win the primary, Beers is going to have to be more than just 'I don't like government.'"
On the Democrat side, Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus of Las Vegas has been campaigning for six months, lampooning Gibbons at every opportunity. While detractors say she's too liberal and mock her Southern accent, she told reporters that the accent seems to get a pretty friendly reception, particularly in rural Nevada. And she has done much better than many expected in several polls.
She has also gotten the attention of some conservatives saying government is too intrusive.
"We should lock up the bad guys, educate our children, and then get out of the way," she has said.
Her big opponent is Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson, son of the former Senate majority leader and a member of a powerful Southern Nevada family. Titus said he is out of step with Nevada Democrats and should file as a Republican.
Herzik said that seems borne out by some of Gibson's statements - including that he would support abortion restrictions if Roe v. Wade is overturned and that he supports the amendment banning gay marriage.
"It's hard to understand why he would volunteer that," Herzik said.
Herzik said Gibson will draw more money than Titus, and might do very well in the general election, but may not make it out of the primary.
"I think Gibson has underestimated the importance of that closed primary. Democratic activists vote, and those activists tend to be more liberal. His early comments were incredibly conservative."
He said he could "easily see Titus beating Gibson."
"She's a dogged campaigner, and she has as much name recognition as he."
But Gibson recently showed a more moderate side on another issue, supporting stem cell research.
In the race to claim Gibbons' House seat, there are already four candidates.
Republican Secretary of State Dean Heller is considered the front-runner. Against him is Angle, who has made her legislative career opposing any new tax or increased fee and is also pushing a California-style Proposition 13 tax-cap amendment for Nevada.
One issue Angle will face from opponents is that the vast majority of her campaign funding is coming from out-of-state conservative and religious groups.
Heller appears to have been campaigning for more than a year, hitting all the appropriate civic events and pounding the rural circuit. While he has been criticized as too liberal for the party, he has made an effort recently to appear more conservative - including working hard for George Bush's re-election.
The wild card is Gibbons' wife, Dawn - who followed him into his Nevada Assembly seat and wants to do the same with his Congressional seat.
"Dawn's the unknown," Herzik said. "She has automatic name recognition; she's an excellent campaigner and won't have any problems raising money."
"But sometimes she isn't taken seriously, and I don't know how the district will respond to two Gibbonses on the ballot."
The lone Democrat in the race is Gardnerville's Jill Derby, a 17-year member of the university Board of Regents. Her best shot would be if Gibbons and Heller split the moderate GOP vote and Angle wins the primary.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.
Candidates for Governor:
Current office: Nevada Senate District 6, first term
Home: Las Vegas
Occupation-Education: CPA, computer consultant
Current office: U.S. House of Representatives, fifth term
Occupation-Education: Lawyer, airline pilot, geologist
Current office: mayor of Henderson, 3rd term
Current office: Lieutenant governor, second term
Home: Las Vegas
Occupation-Education: Restaurant owner
Current office: Nevada Senate District 7, fifth term
Home: Las Vegas
Occupation-Education: UNLV political science professor
Candidates for U.S. House of Representatives, District 2:
Current office: Nevada Assembly District 26, 4th term
Occupation-Education: Small-business manager
Current office: Nevada Board of Regents, third six-year term
Current office: None, former Nevada assemblywoman, three terms
Occupation-Education: Small-business owner
Current office: Secretary of State, three terms
Home: Carson City
Occupation-Education: Business administration, banker
Secretary of State
An interesting match-up for 2006 is the battle to replace Secretary of State Dean Heller. The two leading candidates are both men whose primary public recognition comes from famous fathers. Danny Tarkanian is the son of former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, and Ross Miller is the son of former Gov. Bob Miller.
Now that Brian Sandoval has become a federal judge, the race for attorney general is up for grabs. Republican George Chanos, a prominent Las Vegas business litigator, was appointed to fill out Sandoval's term, and will have a year on the job by Election Day.
But his Democratic opponent, Catherine Cortez-Mastro, has experience as a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office and managerial experience as assistant Clark County manager. And as the daughter of Manny Cortez, longtime director of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau, she has the connections to raise a lot of campaign money.
Outgoing Treasurer Brian Krolicki is the leading candidate for lieutenant governor, but may face outgoing Controller Kathy Augustine. Augustine, whose political image was marred when she was impeached and censured for misdeeds during her re-election campaign, is more likely to run for Krolicki's old job.
If she does, she would face Mark DeStefano in the primary. He ran for regent in 2004, but was pulled off the ballot because he didn't live in the right district. Las Vegas Democrat Kate Marshall, a former senior deputy attorney general with experience in the Consumer Affairs Bureau, is also in that race. But Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry is reportedly also looking at the treasurer's race.