Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006 | 7:20 a.m.
It was bound to happen sooner or later.
The 2nd Congressional District race, a contest that has generally distinguished itself from the state's other campaigns for being an overall clean affair, has gone negative.
National Democrats dropped their version of an October surprise in Nevada last week, issuing a report last Monday about the relationship between Republican Dean Heller to former conservative Reno radio talk-show host Eddie Floyd, who was indicted on drug-trafficking charges earlier this year. Floyd, Democrats said, is also an unregistered sex offender.
The report, issued by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was released on Oct. 2 as President Bush was stumping for Heller at a Reno fundraiser and the Republican-led Congress was reeling from the Mark Foley scandal.
The aim was clear: guilt by association.
Heller, the DCCC noted, appeared on Floyd's radio show 160 times between 2001 and 2005. As an elected official, Heller said he saw his weekly appearances on Floyd's show as fulfilling a key part of his job: informing the public about his office's duties and accomplishments. Other public officials - Democrats and Republicans - appeared on the show just as often for the same reason, he said.
"To characterize me as closer to this guy than anybody else is dubious," he said. "It was a media relationship, not a personal friendship."
Still, the DCCC claimed that a race car belonging to Heller was seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration last year as part the agency's investigation of Floyd and his son, Joshua, for their alleged drug-trafficking operation.
In a phone interview Thursday, Heller insisted the car belonged to Joshua Floyd and was seized by the DEA as part of Joshua Floyd's assets. An avid racing enthusiast, Heller said he was an occasional caller on the younger Floyd's sports talk radio show and that Floyd had asked for his help in building a car.
"It's not unusual to have race cars that I don't own in my garage," Heller said. "If you're in Northern Nevada and you want to start racing, I get most of the phone calls. That's what I do. It's my hobby."
Despite her claims that the report was written and released without her or her campaign's knowledge, Heller's opponent, University Regent Jill Derby stood accused of changing the tone of an otherwise positive campaign.
"You can't convince me that the DCCC is going to send out a hit piece in your congressional district and not tell you it's coming," Heller said. "It defies logic."
Derby maintained her innocence, saying that she wants to keep this campaign focused on the issues.
Still, Derby spokeswoman Jennifer Crowe noted that Heller started running an ad two weeks ago that attacks Derby's record as a regent.
"He drew first blood," she said.