It'll be a year before Nevadans vote to narrow what figures to be a crowded field of candidates for governor. But the race already is creating interest as gubernatorial hopefuls start revealing their plans - and take some early political potshots at one another.
Voters can count on Republican and Democratic primary contests for the seat that GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn will vacate at the end of 2006 after two four-year terms. That ensures no "anointments" or free rides through the Aug. 15, 2006, primary, moved up from its recent post-Labor Day date.
Voters also will have plenty of other contests to consider, including races for one U.S. Senate seat and three U.S. House seats, plus statewide elective seats of lieutenant governor, attorney general, controller, treasurer, secretary of state and state Supreme Court. More than 50 legislative contests will be decided, with all state Assembly seats and half of the state Senate seats up for grabs.
But it's the race for governor that is drawing the most attention.
A primary battle could siphon conservative votes from Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., the front-runner in early polling in the governor's race. Some of Gibbons' support could go to another conservative, state Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas - a prospect that would help more moderate GOP contenders.
Republicans who would benefit from a Gibbons-Beers primary battle include Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, who like Beers already has announced her candidacy.
On the Democratic side, Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, and Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, are expected to run for governor after missing few opportunities to needle each other during the past legislative session.
If they split a moderate-liberal bloc of Democratic voters, that could help well-financed Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson, who's more conservative and says he'd appeal to both Democrats and Republicans - if he decides to run. Gibson has nearly $450,000 left over from his latest re-election campaign.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman would likely be a front-runner among the Democratic hopefuls, but has indicated he won't be a candidate.
Multimillionaire Jim Rogers, chancellor of Nevada's university and community college system, also is thinking about running for governor - and heating things up by describing Gibbons as someone who's not very bright and might look for simple solutions to complex problems.
Rogers was a Republican until Monday, when he registered as nonpartisan. If he gets into the race, he'd skip the primary and be a candidate in the November 2006 general election.
"It's definitely shaping up as an interesting race. There hasn't been one for a long time," says David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
"If Gibbons could have cruised through without a primary, he wouldn't have had to spend much money or, more importantly, open his mouth very much. Now he may have to do both," he said.
University of Nevada, Reno political science professor Eric Herzik agrees there's "no anointed candidate." But he adds, "It's Gibbons' race to lose. He'd have to make a mistake - and it would have to be a real serious mistake."
In the Democratic primary, Damore predicts that Titus would do well while Perkins and Gibson would cut into one another's base.
"Gibson and Perkins are both Henderson people," Damore said. "It's the mayor and the police guy from the same neck of the woods, whereas Titus represents Las Vegas."
Damore also said Gibson might have a lot of campaign cash but he'd suffer from a lack of name recognition in a Democratic primary. But if he won the primary, Gibson might get some crossover votes from Republicans who don't like Gibbons' conservatism - or from ill-informed voters who don't know Jim Gibson from Jim Gibbons, Damore added.
If the primaries were held today, Damore said Gibbons, with $1 million in the bank and a strong network of grassroots support throughout the state, would easily win the Republican nomination while it would be a tossup between Perkins and Titus for the Democratic nomination.
Herzik said Titus appears strong now, "but Perkins is the favorite because the election isn't today. He has time to get out there and get known by people - and he will have the money to do that."
If the November 2006 general election was held today, Damore said Gibbons appears hard to beat because of his strong support in rural Nevada, name recognition and string of campaign victories.