Las Vegas Sun

September 1, 2014

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POLITICAL MEMO:

Empty coffers final nail in Gov. Jim Gibbons’ coffin

Key financial supporters dumped incumbent governor, diverted dollars to Sandoval, Reid

Sun Coverage

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Rory Reid

Rory Reid

Gov. Jim Gibbons’ transformation from establishment favorite four years ago to maverick with only the faintest political support is official. Threatened with becoming the only Nevada incumbent governor to lose a primary election, Gibbons raised a fraction of the Democratic and Republican front-runners’ haul, according to campaign finance reports released last week.

The governor’s likely loss in Tuesday’s primary will end his political career, he said last week. Still, his situation is noteworthy, if only for the striking extent to which Nevada’s well-heeled Republicans and corporate interests have abandoned him in such a short span.

Rarely in American politics has an incumbent governor — at least one who hasn’t been indicted — been so left for dead.

A rocky tenure, poor economy and low poll numbers chased the money away. From Jan. 1 through May 27, the incumbent raised $179,000 and spent $5,000 more.

Fellow Republican Brian Sandoval raised $900,000 and spent $1.1 million.

Rory Reid, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, raised $984,000 and spent about the same amount.

Gibbons did get some large contributions from the old establishment, including Las Vegas Sands, Phil Ruffin and Wynn Resorts. But these look more like token parting gifts compared with the monster war chest he built in 2006, when he ran for governor as the favorite of Nevada’s major business industries.

His campaign said the more modest operation was, at least partly, a choice.

“He ran a very tight campaign because he feels strongly that at a time when he’s asking for the government to pull back the reins on spending, he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to spend a lot of money on his own campaign,” his spokeswoman Jill Lufrano said.

Sandoval leads comfortably in polls, both against Gibbons and in a November matchup with Reid.

But Sandoval was forced to spend much of his money on media as he fended off a spring surge by Gibbons and attacks from a group funded by labor unions and the Democratic Governors Association, headed by a close political adviser to Reid.

This leads to perhaps the most important numbers reported last week: Sandoval will likely enter the general election with $575,000 on hand; Reid will have $2.6 million.

The candidates’ reports show Sandoval worked a bit harder for his money than Reid. Though Sandoval raised significant money in $5,000 and $10,000 increments, he did not bundle money in the tens of thousands as Reid has since the race began.

Sandoval donors included $5,000 from Mission Industries, the commercial laundry that services the Strip; Southwest Gas; the Las Vegas Hilton; Newmont, the gold-mining company; and Eye & Cosmetic Surgery Center of Henderson.

His $10,000 donors included reliable Republican money man Steven Kenninger; Boyd Gaming; Stan Fulton, who has a building named after him at UNLV; Joshua Miller of Henderson; Wayne Prim of Zephyr Cove; NV Energy, an old ally of Sandoval from his days in private practice; Nevada Yellow Cab Corp.; Checker Cab; and Desert Cab.

Rory Reid raised a significant amount through bundling or similar sources. About $55,000 in large donations came from labor unions, both in Nevada and Washington. Five television stations owned by former higher education Chancellor Jim Rogers gave $10,000 contributions, including the Reno and Las Vegas NBC affiliates. Through various Strip properties, MGM Mirage gave a total of $45,000 in contributions.

While Reid has a significant cash advantage and has sewn up MGM Mirage’s exclusive endorsement, Sandoval will also see significant money because of his associations with its key players, first as a gaming regulator and later an attorney. Also, Nevada’s gaming industry has historically hedged in funding campaigns and donated money to both candidates in major races.

Reid spent almost as much money as Sandoval, despite not having a primary contest.

Mike Trask, spokesman for the Reid campaign, said, “We have spent almost a year now building an infrastructure that will enable us to have the strongest organization in the state.” He pointed to offices in Las Vegas and Reno, as well as staff costs.

“We’re thrilled to be entering the general election with five times as much cash on hand as our opponent,” he said.

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