An account of the Jim Gibbons 2010 Campaign

In 2010, Jim Gibbons ran an unsuccessful campaign for re-election in the Nevada gubernatorial race. Prior to holding any elected office, Governor Gibbons was a pilot for the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam as well as a private practice attorney. He has also worked as a commercial pilot for the private airlines Delta Air Lines and Western Airlines.

Mr. Gibbons began his political career in the Nevada State Assembly, where he served between 1989 and 1993. While a member of the Assembly, he was temporarily called to duty in the Gulf War. Gibbons received a medal for his reconnaissance efforts in the war, and this was just one of the nineteen different awards he received throughout his military career.

This helped to make him an attractive candidate to republican voters in the state, and in 1996 he was elected to Congress to be a member of the House of Representatives. While serving in the House, he sat on the Homeland Security Committee and the Armed Services Committee, among others. He stayed at this position for eight years of his five elected terms until he decided to step down and run for state governor.

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After successfully winning in the primary, Gibbons took the general election by a margin of 278,984 to 255,675 – defeating his opponent, Democratic candidate Dina Titus.

While governor, Gibbons experienced several legal troubles and was involved in a number of scandals. In 2006, Gibbons set up a legal defense fund which was meant to argue his case against accusations of sexual assault against a waitress. It continued to serve as a means for paying legal expenses in other cases, such as allegations of illegally securing contracts for friends and companies in which he had personal interests. There were also questions about his personal employment of illegal immigrants, another legal expense which the fund helped to pay for. Furthermore, when the fund was set up it was not properly registered with the relevant authorities, and there were several undeclared donations to the fund, which brought further scrutiny to these matters.

In 2007, Governor Gibbons reportedly admitted to interfering with an ongoing investigation, encouraging authorities to pursue criminal charges against an individual who was involved in a dispute with one of Gibbons’ friends. Also in 2007, an assessor that Gibbons used while acquiring a new 40 acre ranch claimed the he felt pressured into granting the governor a special tax write-off that is generally reserved for farmers who intend to use the land for agriculture.

These, along with a publicly followed divorce and several other minor incidents, lead to a steep decline in Gibbons popularity. In 2008, he received a 10% approval rating.

Governor Gibbons ran for reelection in 2010, this time unsuccessfully. Unable to secure financial backing from the GOP, the Governor was at a funding disadvantage from the start. Beginning with a 17% likely voters rating in August, Gibbons brought his polling numbers up to 27% in June, but it was not enough to beat his opponent Brian Sandoval in the Republican primary election. He took 27% of the vote, which was just over half of the number of votes the challenger received. Sandoval, a former federal judge and Nevada Attorney General, went on to beat Democratic nominee Rory Reed by 11% of the popular vote.

Sandoval’s victory was part of the larger Republican surge that swept through the country in the 2010 election. Though he did not maintain close public ties with the Tea Party, Sandoval was also an expression of widespread incumbent dissatisfaction that was constant between both parties. The popular lack of approval for Gibbons’ performance while in office is comparable to what President Obama experienced during the 2010 general election. With approval ratings hovering around 45%, Obama faced the widespread republican wins in both the Senate and the House.

Some were surprised to hear that Gibbons planned to run in the race, as he was predicted early on to become the first sitting governor to loose in a re-election campaign in the last century. Governor Gibbons has since returned to his private practice law firm to represent clients throughout Nevada.

Copyright John Parry 2011