When the 2006 political cycle started directly after the 2005 Legislature closed, everyone predicted it would be one of the most exciting campaign years Nevada had ever seen – so many open seats, so many good candidates talking about running. And, for the first time in a decade or more, an extremely competitive governor’s race.
Looking back in the weeks after the polls closed, not only did campaign year 2006 live up to expectations, it far exceeded them. Not only was this one of the most competitive years in history – every statewide seat had two good candidates vying for the office – but because of external factors, it was one of the most memorable.
In the governor’s race, the Democratic primary was predicted to be a hard-fought contest between State Senator Dina Titus and Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson. In the end, Titus used her Democratic bona fides and some serious opposition research to pummel the mayor and take the nomination.
On the Republican side, the race was much closer than predicted, with State Senator Bob Beers and Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt giving the much-favored Rep. Jim Gibbons a real run for his money. In the end, it was Gibbons’ campaign war chest and favorable poll numbers in the north that earned him a spot in the final two.
A prohibitive favorite against Titus from the beginning, it was Gibbons’ race to lose. The congressman was up nearly 10 points going into the last month of the campaign. Then came one of the most odd and unforgettable campaign moments in Nevada history. Gibbons was accused of sexually assaulting a woman outside a local Las Vegas restaurant after having drinks with her.
For most candidates, that would have been the end of the campaign. However, the incident got little play in Northern Nevada, and Titus still had a huge amount of unfavorable baggage in the North from decades of fighting for her district in Southern Nevada. After a bitter and hard-fought campaign, it turned out pretty much the way it had been predicted – Gibbons cleaned up in the North and managed not to get his clock cleaned in Southern Nevada to hold on for the victory.
It was a very Democratic year around the country, and Nevada Democrats did very well. Catherine Cortez Masto defeated Republican Don Chairez for attorney general; Ross Miller beat Danny Tarkanian for secretary of state in a hard-fought campaign; and Kate Marshall beat Mark DeStefano for treasurer. Republican Brian Krolicki held on to beat political newcomer Bob Unger for lieutenant governor.
Bucking the nationwide trend, Congressman Jon Porter held on against a spirited campaign from Democrat Tessa Hafen to keep the seat in Republican hands. And John Ensign never broke a sweat in beating Jack Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter.
The Nevada Senate stayed in Republican hands, although the Democrats picked up one seat by finally beating the woman who supposedly could not be beaten – Senator Sandra Tiffany. And Barbara Buckley became Nevada’s first female Speaker of the Assembly, while the Assembly stayed firmly in Democratic control.
But for all its ups and downs, campaign year 2006 will forever be remembered more for its tabloid headlines than for any significant policy proposals or issues being brought forward.