Nevada candidates for governor debate |

Nevada candidates for governor debate

Associated Press Writer

LAS VEGAS – The three leading Republicans in Nevada governor’s race faced off in the first debate of the campaign Friday, using much of the live matchup to jockey for the title of most fiscally conservative candidate.

The hour-long debate marked the first time U.S. Rep Jim Gibbons, the Republican front-runner who has recently slipped in the polls, faced his primary opponents, surging state Sen. Bob Beers and Lt. Gov Lorraine Hunt, on television.

“I want to thank Congressman Jim Gibbons for finally showing up and Senator Bob Beers for always showing up,” Hunt said.

Beers and Hunt have dogged Gibbons for months with challenges to debate before early voting began July 29. Gibbons – who’s known for his verbal gaffes – refused, citing a busy schedule in Washington, D.C.

State Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus and Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson, contenders in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, were scheduled to debate later Friday.

The Republican candidates cut quickly to one of the campaign’s hot-button issues.

Beers opened his remarks with a pitch for his Tax and Spending Control initiative, a proposed constitutional spending restraint the Las Vegas senator has used as a springboard for his candidacy. The measure would use a formula to limit government spending increases and automatically refund surpluses.

Gibbons, a five-term Reno Republican, has come out against the measure, but has said he would follow its principles. On Friday, he came up shy of promising to refund surpluses to taxpayers.

“Any surplus we have, of course, cannot be used to grow government, it has to be used on the one-shot critical needs,” he said.

Gibbons implied, but did not state outright, that he would cut taxes.

“What a surplus tells me is that we’re overtaxing the Nevada taxpayers,” he said.

Hunt also opposes the initiative.

The former lounge singer and businesswoman said she was the only one in the race with the “entrepreneurial vision” to lead Nevada. She dismissed her opponents as “someone who needs on-the-job training and someone with a Washington spend-at-will mind-set.”

Hunt has accused Gibbons of flip-flopping on issues, including his support for same-sex marriage, and her new attack ad criticizes him for pulling a speech off the Internet and passing it off as his own in Elko last year.

Hunt reminded viewers of the incident Friday, saying Gibbons, “flip-flops like John Kerry and plagiarizes like Joe Biden.”

As the candidates appeared on KLVX-TV for the 7:30 p.m. debate, more than 30,000 voters in Clark County alone already had cast their ballots, taking advantage of early voting, Primary election day is Aug. 15.

A “no-use” clause barring the campaigns from using the debate footage in radio and TV ads also lowered the stakes.