CARSON CITY -- It didn't take long for Nevadans to make history by ousting incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons in the Republican primary Tuesday.
Even before sundown it was clear Gibbons would be the first incumbent governor in state history to lose his re-election in his own party primary.
In taking down Gibbons, former federal Judge Brian Sandoval achieved two other firsts: He became the first Hispanic to claim a major-party gubernatorial nomination in Nevada, and he set into motion the longest-ever lame-duck period for a governor, leaving Gibbons in office for seven more months until the next governor takes office.
Sandoval had 56 percent of the vote, compared with 27 percent for Gibbons.
Sandoval's victory sets up a general election contest with Democratic nominee Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission and son of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Although Sandoval leads Rory Reid in statewide opinion polls, Reid has an estimated $2.6 million cash on hand, while Sandoval had less than $600,000 at the last reporting period.
"Starting now there is no hiding, we will debate in the open," Sandoval said in his victory speech at the historic Caughlin Ranch House at the Garden Shop Nursery in Reno, in which he was introduced by former Gov. Kenny Guinn.
Rory Reid, who faced only token opposition in his party's primary, cruised to victory and is expected to run a tightly organized campaign.
In the Democratic primary, Reid had 70 percent of the vote compared with 15 percent for his challenger, College of Southern Nevada professor Frederick Conquest.
Rory Reid was already taking aim at Sandoval on election night.
"Brian is Jim Gibbons in an expensive suit," he said in a telephone interview, criticizing Sandoval for not having a plan for education.
"I believe we will never have a strong economy if we don't have strong education," he said.
Gibbons conceded defeat in a brief news conference at 9 p.m. Tuesday outside the Governor's Mansion. He vowed to support Sandoval in the general election and to ensure a smooth transition for the next governor.
"It has been one of the most fun jobs, the most rewarding jobs I have had," he said.
Gibbons vowed to give 100 percent of his attention to the governor's job until his term ends in January.
"I haven't pursued any (other) opportunities," he added.
Gibbons said he hopes Sandoval wins in November so that they can continue in the conservative tradition he has brought to the governor's office.
"I think Nevada is better off in the hands of conservative leadership," he said. "I will work with the Republican nominee. The people of Nevada deserve a smooth transition from one governor to the incoming governor. It is something I regret I didn't have when we started."
He and Guinn clashed in the final days of the Guinn administration, with the departing governor even making an appointment to the Gaming Control Board that Gibbons later rescinded.
In response to questions that he never has been a friend to either Harry or Rory Reid, Gibbons bristled and protested.
"They are friends. I have a great deal of respect for them."
If Rory Reid is elected governor in November, Gibbons promised to work with him to create the budget that will be presented to the Legislature in mid-January.
Gibbons said he has no regrets about any of the stances he took over the past 3Â½ years. What he didn't expect, he said, was that the state would fall into its deepest recession since the Great Depression.
Sandoval, a former Nevada attorney general and an assemblyman from Reno, stepped down in September from his job as a federal judge to enter the race against Gibbons, who was struggling in the polls with an unfavorable rating higher than his favorable rating.
Sandoval became the favorite of many major Republican donors who believed Gibbons was destined to lose the general election to Rory Reid. Gibbons raised just $178,000 in campaign contributions from January to May, compared with about $900,000 for Sandoval.
"It appeared he would have a very difficult time winning re-election," said Reno auto dealer Jack Stanko, who supported Gibbons in 2006 and Sandoval this year.
Like many Republicans, Stanko thought Gibbons had too much personal baggage to continue in office.
Sandoval "has the values of a good, solid person and a good family man," Stanko said.
Gibbons' publicly aired personal problems date to 2006 when, late in his campaign for a first term, he was accused of trying to assault a cocktail waitress in a Las Vegas parking garage, an allegation he denies. The incident resulted in a police investigation that didn't conclude with criminal charges but did generate a civil lawsuit that continues to dog him.
He subsequently sought a divorce from first lady Dawn Gibbons and was accused of marital infidelity, an allegation he also denies.
For many Republicans -- particularly women, who the most recent statewide poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research showed favored Sandoval over Gibbons by 30 points -- the scandalous allegations were too much.
"If he is not loyal in his home life, he is not going to be loyal in his political life," Sandoval voter Windy Hamilton, 60, of Reno said of Gibbons.
Voters who stuck with Gibbons did so in large part because they believe he kept his promise to fight tax increases, although taxes did increase under his watch and sometimes with his approval.
Gibbons won support from two state-based Tea Party organizations, a fact his campaign sought to emphasize.
"I think Jim Gibbons has done an outstanding job standing up for the people of Nevada, as opposed to just taxing the hell out of everybody," said Republican Don Paschall, 54, of Reno.
Paschall owns a plumbing company that he says has shrunk from $18 million to $400,000 in sales and 180 employees to four in the past two years.
He said Gibbons' personal problems were troubling but added, "I've seen those troubles on every street in the U.S."
Sandoval had little, if any, official support from Tea Party affiliations, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Long considered a moderate, he sought to curry conservative support by pledging to be as tough as Gibbons on taxes and by saying he supports a controversial Arizona law aimed at curbing illegal immigration.
Democrats sought to exploit the rift among Republicans, most prominently with an independent group called Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs. The group, led by longtime Reid consultant Dan Hart, raised more than $1 million and ran television ads statewide that painted Sandoval as a flip-flopper on conservative issues.
Former Nevada Gov. Bob List, now a Republican national committeeman, said Sandoval has his work cut out for him in trying to rebuild broad support among Republicans while attracting the independents and Democrats it would take to defeat Rory Reid.
"There is a tremendous amount of passion among these Tea Party people," List said. "A lot of the rhetoric that has been thrown at (Sandoval) has been excessive and I think incorrect. He'll have plenty of time to straighten that out and earn their support."
The Arizona law, signed into law April 23, calls for state and local law enforcement officials to follow federal procedures by seeking evidence that people they stop for infractions are in the United States legally if there is "reasonable suspicion" they are not.
Opponents have said the law will prompt police to target Hispanics unjustly in an effort to root out illegal immigrants. Supporters say it is a reasonable response from state officials fed up with a lack of coherent immigration policies from the federal government.
Sandoval, who was Nevada's first Hispanic attorney general, said he supports the law because the U.S. government has failed to cope with the issue and because it specifically prohibits racial profiling.
His support for the law cost him an endorsement from the Las Vegas-based group Hispanics in Politics, which endorsed Gibbons in the Republican primary. Rory Reid, a Spanish speaker, is working to cultivate the Hispanic vote.
On election night, Sandoval stood behind his support for the Arizona law but said he wouldn't necessarily support a similar measure in Nevada.
"What may be good for Arizona may not be for Nevada," he said.