Las Vegas Sun

November 16, 2018

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With scant crew, Gibbons reelection campaign sets sail

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Gov. Jim Gibbons

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Undeterred by poor poll numbers and an empty campaign vault, Gov. Jim Gibbons insists to anyone who’ll listen that he’s running for reelection.

And the campaign is starting to take shape.

The governor’s inner circle is shrinking, and the advisers who remain have few political bona fides. Combine that with a complete turnover of the top staff in the governor’s office — his deputy chief of staff and legislative director gave notice last week — and Gibbons will head into the campaign season in an untested political boat.

The prevailing wisdom has been that he has no chance of winning the general election and that his only hope of surviving the primary — set for next June — is to have several Southern Nevada Republicans beat each other up and split the vote.

Yet Gibbons, if nothing else, has proved himself capable of ignoring the prevailing wisdom.

Take, for example, his remaining inner circle. Northern Nevada RV dealer Howard Weiss has emerged as Gibbons’ closest adviser and is helping to interview for key campaign jobs.

Brad Keating, a former Gibbons staffer now working in government affairs at the Nevada Cancer Institute, recently declined an offer to be Gibbons’ campaign manager.

“I respectfully declined the position,” said Keating, 23, who explained he’s happy with his current job.

Keating said he had conversations about the campaign and other issues with Gibbons and Weiss.

Robert Olmer, an marketing executive working on his first campaign, is Gibbons’ lone campaign staffer, serving as his director of finance.

Meanwhile, many of Gibbons’ challengers have campaign teams and tens of thousands, if not millions, in their coffers.

His situation reflects a stark change of fortune from 2006, when Gibbons, a sitting congressman, was the anointed candidate of many of the state’s political powers and had millions in the bank. MGM Mirage was a major donor, and Republican kingmaker Sig Rogich a top adviser.

In an interview last month, Gibbons said he’s confident in his untested political team.

“It’s not a campaign based on good old boys. It never has been,” he said. “I’m very confident in the people I select. I know what their skills are. And often times, giving people new responsibilities to demonstrate skills and abilities, it’s best thing you can do. If they need help, I’ll give them help. I like to give people a chance.”

Of course, it’s more than a preference for Gibbons. With the latest polls putting his approval rating at 10 percent and the political establishment looking elsewhere (MGM Mirage announced it would be contributing to the gubernatorial campaign of Democratic Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid), Gibbons has few options.

And so the state’s incumbent chief executive will run as an outsider.

“Part of that is the governor is a maverick, he’s looking to do things differently,” Olmer said. “Look at the number of vetoes he had (during the 2009 Legislature). He held a hard line on things he believed in.”

Gibbons doesn’t have a political fundraiser scheduled, though Olmer said he has been making calls. The campaign is ramping up, after expiration of the 30-day window following the legislative session during which the governor and state lawmakers are prohibited from raising money, Olmer said.

He predicted the governor’s opposition to the Legislature’s tax increase will be key to winning over donors and voters. “We truly believe that people will look at what he did during the legislative session over the next couple months and think he was exactly right,” he said.

Maybe it will be enough to get him over the first hurdle, the Republican primary. Democrats, at least for now, are hoping so.

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