Sunday, May 9, 2010 | 2 a.m.
The lesson of the week: Never underestimate the likelihood that things will blow up for Gov. Jim Gibbons.
Just as the Gibbons re-election campaign seemed to be gaining traction, the governor once again stumbled, putting an end to the latest narrative that Gibbons was making a comeback.
First, his campaign resurrected the awkward quotes of his GOP primary opponent, Brian Sandoval, to a newspaper in 2002, when Sandoval said as attorney general, it was his job to defend any state law. When Sandoval was asked if that would include a law that required Jews to wear the Star of David on their clothing, Sandoval said yes. The quote, which had been used unsuccessfully against Sandoval in 2002, could have been an effective attack. Instead, Gibbons’ campaign compared Sandoval to a Nazi. Gibbons was forced to back-peddle on the attack. And the coverage focused more on Gibbons’ comparison of Sandoval to a Nazi than on Sandoval’s original statement.
Then on Thursday, the woman who was accused by first lady Dawn Gibbons of having an affair with her husband wrote an article vouching for Jim Gibbons’ steadfast account that they had never been intimate and were just close friends. But the story by Kathy Karrasch in the weekly Reno News and Review also brought up personal details no constituent wants to know — such as that Gibbons proclaimed his adoration for Karrasch after getting elected, and she rebuffed him for another man, and then listed their respective number of sexual partners.
Even if few people read the full story, it was another reminder of Gibbons’ messy divorce that became a national story through his first years in office.
“It’s a horrible thing,” said Fred Lokken, professor of political science at Truckee Meadows Community College in Northern Nevada. “Bringing this thing back up, it reminds people of all the controversy he’s been involved in.”
The divorce between Dawn and Jim Gibbons is still pending, despite having appeared to be settled in December. To finalize the divorce, a Reno family court judge gave Jim Gibbons 60 days to give Dawn a $275,000 check, based on the value of property they own. Gibbons has said he has had trouble selling a Reno home or getting a loan. Cal Dunlap, attorney for Dawn Gibbons, said the first lady has not received any portion of that payment. (He also declined to comment on the Karrasch article.)
Gibbons had seemed to be gaining ground against his Republican rivals, former federal judge Sandoval and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon. The divorce drama seemed to have ended. He had won plaudits for his role in February’s special session, negotiating with Legislators for the first time to balance the budget. His fight against federal health care legislation resonated with his base.
A Rasmussen poll in April found that Gibbons was even with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, and other polls found Gibbons pulling closer to front-running Sandoval in the primary.
So why do his personal failings matter?
At a debate in Reno last month, the crowd of Tea Party movement activists received Gibbons warmly when he talked about his positions on taxes and spending and the federal health care law.
After the three gubernatorial candidates finished, Vicki Smith, 60, of Reno, was outside smoking a cigarette. “I like his position on taxes,” she said when asked about Gibbons. “It’s the other stuff.” Like what? “You know.”
When a campaign has a misstep or distraction, politicians often trot out new ads or try to redirect the conversation.
Sure enough, on Friday afternoon the governor’s office sent out a news release. On Monday, Gibbons will present a “bold new plan for transparency and accountability for public funds.”
Maybe it will be the start of Gibbons’ latest comeback.