Scandals Tighten Nevada Gubernatorial Race
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now, House Republicans also face tough races in Nevada. But the big headlines right now in that state go to the contest for governor. Democrat Dina Titus didn't seem to have a good chance. And then a series of scandals hit Republican Jim Gibbons.
NPR's Luke Burbank reports from Las Vegas.
LUKE BURBANK: Yesterday was a good day for Jim Gibbons. President Bush came to Elko, Nevada to campaign and Gibbons got to stand right next to him on the stage. In fact, even after the event, when the TV lights had been turned off, and the crowds were gone, Gibbons was enthusiastic.
Representative JIM GIBBONS (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, Nevada): I think it's going to work. It's going to do just fine in Nevada. I'm focused on Nevada, the president's here in Nevada. I think our elections in Nevada are going to turn out just fine.
BURBANK: However, good days have been pretty rare for Gibbons over the last few weeks. First there were the allegations that he grabbed a woman in a parking garage after they'd been drinking together. Then, charges he hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny. And most recently, a Wall Street Journal story alleging he used his influence in Congress to steer millions of dollars in military contracts towards a friend.
Gibbons has denied all the allegations, which he calls dirty tricks.
Rep. GIBBONS: All of the things within the last couple of weeks, it all seems to be directed toward character assassination right before the election. And certainly it was an effort to accomplish a change in the political outcome.
BURBANK: Whether or not that's true, one thing does seem to be clear: Jim Gibbons' PR nightmare got its start, appropriately enough, on Friday, October 13th. It was about 10:00 p.m. in a parking lot outside a McCormick and Schmick's restaurant near the Vegas strip.
(Soundbite of 911 Emergency Call)
Unidentified Woman #1 (911 Operator): 911 Emergency (unintelligible).
CHRISTY MAZZEO: Hi. My name is Christy Mazzeo. And...
BURBANK: Christy Mazzeo, a 32-year-old single mother and cocktail waitress, made a series of 911 calls the night she claims Gibbons came on to her in the parking garage. He's denied he did anything wrong, but the story has been a local obsession around Nevada. And it's safe to say the beneficiary of all the drama has been Gibbons' opponent, State Senator Dina Titus.
State Senator DINA TITUS (Democrat, Nevada): Oh, my goodness. I never thought I would be in the Coliseum of Caesar's Palace with Dina Titus signs and people here. This is fabulous. This is Las Vegas, isn't it?
(Soundbite of cheering)
BURBANK: Yesterday, as Mr. Bush was stumping for Republicans up in Elko, Titus was in Las Vegas with a president of her own - Bill Clinton.
President BILL CLINTON: I was accused of coming here for Dina Titus because, to my ears, she's one of the few politicians out here without an accent.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BURBANK: Clinton's appearance was just another sign of how winnable Democrats think this race is. A month ago, Gibbons seemed unbeatable. Now, it's a toss-up. Titus says she plans to press as much flesh as possible in the waning days of the campaign.
Sen. TITUS: I'm going to job sites, I'm going to shift changes, I'm going to churches, shopping centers. I don't want to be sitting at home. I want to be out there looking people in the eye and asking them for their vote.
BURBANK: Jan Meyer(ph) had just cast her vote yesterday at an early polling station off of Sahara Boulevard when I caught up with her. She said she'd lost respect for Gibbons over the allegations, but had still voted for him.
Ms. JAN MEYER (Voter): Because I still think, as much as I don't like him, I think he's still going to be better than she will be.
BURBANK: Meyer said that this was the least excited she's ever been about casting a vote in a Nevada election.
One piece of good news for Gibbons this week was the release of security footage from the parking garage in question. Initial reports were that neither he nor Mazzeo appear on the tapes. Unfortunately for Gibbons, the tapes probably don't have much value, legally speaking, because like so many things in this race, there's no way to know if they're authentic.
Luke Burbank, NPR News, Las Vegas.
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