Las Vegas Sun

April 21, 2014

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Jon Ralston on how the story of a rainy night has taken on life

So did Rep. Jim Gibbons really snatch defeat from the jaws of victory because of a rainy night in Vegas, an ill-timed invitation and the ever-present toxic media environment?

Maybe.

Let's go through three of the more likely scenarios at and around McCormick & Schmick's last Friday evening:

A. It happened just as Gibbons described it - he tried to help out an intoxicated woman. Period.

B. It happened just as the woman, Chrissy Mazzeo, described it. Gibbons was aggressive to the point of assault in trying to pick her up.

C. The congressman tried to pick her up, she rejected him and then she concocted this story for some reason.

A is not news, B assuredly is and C might be (it certainly would cast his judgment and family values he has touted into question).

But what clearly has happened here is that thanks to the media's lust for anything with the scent of sex, alcohol and public officials overriding all reasonable news judgment - aerial photos, sensational copy, saturation coverage - and Team Gibbons' overspin, overthink and overkill, this now has a life of its own. And that life may be Jim Gibbons' political death.

Can you imagine what veteran spinmeister Sig Rogich has been thinking the last few days after suggesting he and Gibbons have a glass of wine with some women at the restaurant near Hughes Center and having the result be the eerie sound of a campaign's death knell?

After surviving all manner of trauma with awkward, sometimes hapless candidates, from Bush 41 to Kenny Guinn to Gibbons, Rogich allowed his guy to be put in jeopardy by inviting this situation.

It is simply amazing. And just as stunning is that the ever-voluble Dina Titus has managed to muzzle herself and follow an elemental rule of politics: When your opponent is committing suicide, get out of the way.

I dismissed the story out of hand when I first heard about it. Gibbons is a stiff, he rarely drinks and M&S is such a public place. He just couldn't be that stupid, that much of a clod to make advances in or near there. It strains credulity, doesn't it?

Folks at the restaurant told me it was hooey as did law enforcement. They thought the woman was smashed and they didn't find evidence of a crime. They even said her 911 calls - three of them - showed she was out of her mind and didn't have her story straight.

But those calls sound more credible than they led folks to believe and Mazzeo did not recant her story, as the cops first said - she simply decided not to proceed because, she said, it wasn't worth it to go up against a powerful figure. OK. Maybe.

Some suggested the whole thing was a setup to sink Gibbons a short time before the election, but that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. How could anyone have known that it would rain and Gibbons would be forced back inside and be joined by Mazzeo at his table?

This may be a deus ex machina for the Democrats, or perhaps proof that God is a Democrat. But I doubt anything here was orchestrated by a Democrat.

Gibbons did little to help himself during his news conference with his wife, Dawn, at his side, pasted-on smiles held for 15 minutes, and his adamant denials doing nothing to squelch the story.

The affidavits collected by his lawyer, Don Campbell (he's also mine, in full disclosure), speak to what happened inside the restaurant and only indicate (including a statement from Mazzeo's companion) that Gibbons did not appear to do anything inappropriate. Campbell said that Gibbons wouldn't answer questions because Mazzeo has hired a lawyer, but no good could have come for Gibbons in trying to explain why he tried to help a drunken woman to her car.

And we are still left with only two people knowing what happened outside.

In the end, if Mazzeo's story is true, Gibbons should not just be disqualified from running for governor, but he also should probably be in jail. But if it's not, and even if the truth is in between their accounts, he and his family have been irreparably damaged and the governor's race may be decided by something unimaginable before last weekend.

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