Steve Sisolak campaigned saying he was the only Democrat who could beat Republican Adam Laxalt in the race for governor.
Now he’ll get his chance.
Sisolak defeated fellow Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani in Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. With still some votes to be counted, Sisolak had an impressive 12-point lead over “Chris G.”
The Democratic nominee immediately turned his sights to Laxalt. Addressing supporters in a ballroom at Aria, Sisolak acknowledged the primary had been tough, but said he talked to Giunchigliani Tuesday night, and “here’s one thing we both agree on: Nevada families cannot afford to let Adam Laxalt become our next governor.”
Then Sisolak ran through arguments sure to be echoed countless times on the campaign trail in the coming months:
“You want to improve our schools and keep our teachers in Nevada? Laxalt won’t get it done.”
“You want to create new jobs that pay, in industries that last? Laxalt won’t deliver.”
“Are you tired of paying too much for healthcare? Laxalt is not listening.”
“You want to protect women’s health and keep Planned Parenthood funded? Laxalt will slash it.”
“You want to protect Dreamers and stop the administration from tearing families apart? Laxalt will stand in the way.”
Laxalt, who was endorsed by Donald Trump on Twitter Tuesday, easily won his primary against state Treasurer Dan Schwartz.
The ballroom at the Aria where Sisolak had invited supporters had the air of confidence from the beginning of the night. Once The Associated Press called the election around 9:20 p.m. the room erupted in chants and cheers.
“What are we?” someone shouted. “Union strong,” the crowd responded. Sisolak’s campaign enjoyed enthusiastic support from several unions, particularly those working on the Raiders stadium that Sisolak has strongly supported and that Giunchigliani has just as strongly opposed.
Long-time friend and supporter U.S. Rep. Dina Titus highlighted the stadium while introducing Sisolak to the crowd.
“He is not a talker, he is a doer,” Titus said. “He can make things happen, and that’s what a progressive really is.”
At Giunchigliani’s watch party at the Bunkhouse Bar in downtown Las Vegas, the strain of the campaign could still be felt.
As the gubernatorial race results started flowing in, one supporter of Giunchigliani held up his phone to show a video clip from competitor Steve Sisolak’s watch party. “Look,” said the supporter. “Look at all those white men.”
A friend quipped in, “I think I spot a black guy!”
The night would not end well for the diverse crowd of supporters and friends who turned out what they hoped would be Nevada’s first woman governor. But the mood remained surprisingly upbeat even after the race was called for Sisolak. Chatter focused on other political races or local downtown happenings. A few cautioned post-op thoughts about what went wrong (they expected better numbers up north, they started campaigning too late, they were simply out financed, etc). Mostly, though, everyone chatted about upcoming races in the general election.
Then, when Giunchigliani took the stage herself to address the crowd, she urged them to do what they’d already been doing all night: “Move forward.”
Giunchigliani took sharp aim at Republican candidate Adam Laxalt, calling him “right of Trump” and urged her supporters to protect Nevada from him—presumably by supporting Sisolak. She added that she planned on talking to Sisolak about her disappointment in the brutally negative advertising during the primary but said the bottom line is she needs to move on.
Then, without actually saying Sisolak’s name, she also issued a subtle warning about keeping people accountable for progressive positions and promises: “You think you’re progressive, you damn well gotta be progressive.”
Giunchigliani praised her team for helping push the narrative left and tasked them with keeping other Democrats accountable for progressive policies that keep things like the working class and education at the forefront of people’s minds.
Whether her supporters heed this call and stay engaged remains to be seen. One campaign worker admitted he worried about apathy over Sisolak. “Lots of people don’t think he’s a Democrat at all,” he said, noting that he’d talked door-to-door at more than 2,000 registered voters.
He added, “It’s disappointing.”