LAS VEGAS – Nevada's wide-open race for governor is being fought with sock puppets, cardboard cutouts, "Star Wars" parodies and Internet close-ups of an elephant's behind.
With no incumbent in the race and no hand-picked successor to popular Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, the Democrats and the Republicans are locked in primary contests that have given rise to zany personal attacks and not much debate over the issues.
"They're really not arguing of anything of substance here," Democratic political consultant Gary Gray said. "They've not given the voters a clear choice of who has the vision and leadership to take us forward."
All the candidates in the Aug. 15 primaries have stood by the allegations and the low-road tactics. And although some have bemoaned the level of discourse, they have invoked the age-old playground excuse: The other guy started it.
"Wiser people than I have persuaded me that I can't just take it. I have to do it," said Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson, a Democrat.
His chief rival, Democratic state Sen. Dina Titus, said: "They just keep throwing mud at us ... so we've got to fight back a little bit."
Titus, for her part, created a Web site accusing Gibson of latent Republicanism. The site included a close-up of an elephant's behind. Gibson responded by sending out a Web cartoon of his opponent wielding a "Star Wars"-style light saber and succumbing to the pull of the Dark Side.
On the Republican side, the front-runner is Rep. Jim Gibbons, a five-term congressman and former military pilot who gave one of his GOP rivals some ammunition when he told a newspaper that he used his state Assembly office to get rehired by Delta Air Lines. (Gibbons says he misspoke.)
Las Vegas state Sen. Bob Beers responded with an Internet ad starring a sock puppet in a little suit and tie. "Hi there, I'm Congressman Gibbons," the sock puppet says. "I shook down Delta Air Lines."
Beers campaign spokesman Andy Matthews acknowledged the ad "may be over the top," but "the message in it is dead-on."
Beers, frustrated over Gibbons' refusal to debate him at one point, also appeared on television with a cardboard cutout of the congressman.
Also in the race are GOP Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, a former lounge singer, and former porn star Melody Damayo, a Republican who performed under the name Mimi Miyagi and closed out her film career with a starring role in "Happy Ending." Her campaign slogan: "For the bare and honest truth." A recent fundraiser opened with a limbo contest.
The sock puppet ad may not even be the most startling campaign ad in Nevada this season.
State Treasurer Brian Krolicki, a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, is running a porno-movie send-up — with a saxophone soundtrack and a close-up of a nearly naked couple in an embrace — to accuse his opponent, Barbara Lee Woollen, of making money off the porn industry. Woollen owns a film equipment rental company. The spot is rated "RA" — suitable for Republican Audiences.
Titus suggested the negative campaigning is part of a long American tradition.
"It's nothing new. Negative campaigning goes back to Thomas Jefferson's time. They have been known to throw animal excrement at each other," she said, "so we're pretty tame compared to that."