In the Nevada state senate’s ninth district race, the Republican primary is getting brutal, with allegations of bribery, defending child rapists and insanity.
The back story: The incumbent, state Sen. Dennis Nolan, in 2008 testified as a character witness in defense of his friend, Gordon Lawes. Lawes was on trial for raping his 16-year-old sister-in-law. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Now, Nolan’s primary challenger, Elizabeth Halseth, is using that testimony against him. She ran radio ads all last week in which the victim’s father accuses Nolan of “defending child rapists.”
“What kind of person defends a child rapist who sexually assaults our kids?” he says in the ad. “Tell him that defending child rapists is not OK.”
Halseth campaign manager David McGowan told TPM that the campaign, once they heard about Nolan’s involvement in the trial, contacted the victim’s father about doing an ad.
“He was willing to help tell the story,” McGowan said.
Attack campaigns often backfire among voters, and it could have happened this time. But last week Nolan, trying to clear the names of his friend and himself, reached out to the victim’s sister.
He wanted the sister, Jamie Lawes, who’s also the ex-wife of Gordon Lawes, to “tell the truth” about what happened — that is, to say that there was no rape. He left her three voicemails, which she turned over to Halseth’s campaign.
In one message, now posted prominently on Halseth’s campaign site, Nolan says it would be “financially beneficial” for the sister to “tell the truth.”
Nolan has admitted that he called the woman, but maintains that he wasn’t trying to bribe her.
At first, he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he wasn’t planning to pay her. He was, he said, just trying to entice her to meet him. His plan was to wear a “wire” and record her saying that the sex between her ex-husband and sister was consensual.
“The only information I have is from a guy who is locked up,” he said. “No one else believes him. I have to find a way to get at the truth. It infuriates me. I do not know if it could be much worse for me.”
His story later changed. He released a statement claiming that wasn’t talking about the rape case at all when he implored the woman to “tell the truth.” Instead, he wanted her to say that her father, who had recorded the ads for Halseth, had abused her, thereby discrediting him.
“I realize my tactics in this case were somewhat unorthodox but I never have really cared to be politically correct,” Nolan said.
He’s also suggested that Halseth’s campaign may have altered the tapes. McGowan, Halseth’s spokesman, said the voicemail was “unedited and untouched” except for a bleep placed over the woman’s name.
The woman says Nolan’s claims — that the sex was consensual and that her father abused her — are false, and signs of “complete insanity.”
As for the state Republican Party, they say the choice is up to the voters.
“I will defer to voters who are getting an almost real-time opportunity to give their political feedback as they go to the polls,” said the chairman, Mark Amodei. “Who is the Republican Party to supplant the voters who are weighing in on it right now?”
Amodei said the party has been fielding calls about Nolan from voters, most of them upset.
He suggested that Nolan “do some soul-searching.”
Nolan did not return TPM’s calls for comment.