It is hard to imagine two more different people than the candidates who will contend for the Nevada governor’s office this fall. From political philosophy to life experience, Democrat Dina Titus and Republican Jim Gibbons have little in common.
Titus, who knocked off Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson to gain the Democratic nomination in an extremely hard-fought campaign, is a UNLV political science professor and one of Nevada’s toughest elected officials. She knows the political game from the inside out and has made a career of taking on tough and often unpopular fights.
Gibbons, on the other hand, has seized upon populist issues to advance in his political life. His Gibbons Tax Restraint initiative, which required that no tax increases could be passed by the Legislature without a two-thirds vote, was wildly popular. Even though it caused two special sessions to gain consensus on a tax increase during the 2003 Legislature, it will most likely remain the law of the land for decades to come.
Titus has been the Senate Minority Leader for the past decade. As such, she’s learned how to use every angle to try to promote her political agenda. While the Senate Democrats have been vocal on numerous issues during her tenure, they have been relegated to being spoilers or having to pick off renegade Republicans to get legislation through.
Titus is not afraid to tweak her Republican colleagues and has also not always gotten along with her fellow Democrats in the Assembly. This was never more apparent than in 2005, in her rivalry with potential gubernatorial challenger and Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins. She made sure a couple of Perkins’ bills never found their way out of the Senate.
Gibbons has flown mostly under the radar during his political career. After an uneventful stint in the Nevada Assembly (the Republicans were in the minority during his tenure), Gibbons successfully ran for Congress. During his five terms in Washington, D.C., he made few headlines and was never appointed as chairman of any committee (although he was in the running for Chair of the House Committee on Intelligence, but lost it to a more senior member).
During the 2006 primary campaign, Gibbons initially refused to directly debate his opponents and stayed away from high-profile issues. When polls showed the race tightening, however, he did emerge with a strong television buy and good performances at televised debates. Political strategists say that, although the congressman has a strong presence in front of the camera, he’s prone to miscues that give his opponents ammunition. The best way to minimize that, obviously, is to not make too many public appearances.
Conversely, Titus is at her best in a public forum. A wizard with quips and rhetorical retorts, she never gets tongue-tied and rarely strays off-message. Although she earlier came off as brash and over-confident, she has toned down her act and now appears much more thoughtful.
On the issues, both candidates are about where you would expect – Titus is pro-choice, has voted for a few tax increases and is a strong proponent of education reforms like all-day kindergarten and class-size reduction.
Gibbons is pro-life, although he does believe in abortion in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. His tax-restraint initiative nearly doomed any future tax increases in Nevada, and he’s not a big fan of the Teacher’s Union (one of Titus’ top support groups).
Early polls may show the race relatively close, but conventional wisdom gives Gibbons a strong edge for the following reasons: Northern Nevada is traditionally conservative. Even the Democrats are a bit more restrained. They will likely look for a more moderate candidate, as they did with George W. Bush…twice.
Even if Titus were to win Clark County, it’s likely she won’t win it by much. The voter rolls are close among the parties, and she won’t get every Democrat. She then must try to break even in Northern and rural Nevada, a tall order for a politician who has been on record chastising Northern Nevadans on tax issues.
Anything can happen in an election, but mathematically, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Senator Titus to become Nevada’s first female governor.