After backing Dems in other statewide races, Nevada voters elect Lombardo over Sisolak
Joe Lombardo at an event in April 2022; Steve Sisolak speaking to the press in Carson City in 2019. (Photos: Ronda Churchhill, Jeniffer Solis)
Nevada Democrat Steve Sisolak will be a one-term governor, unofficial results now show.
Sisolak is on track to be defeated by Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo. Sisolak was trailing Lombardo by 2.2 points – roughly 21,000 votes — on Friday.
“While votes are still coming in – and we need every ballot tallied and every voice heard – it appears we will fall a percentage point or so short of winning,” read a statement released by Sisolak. “Obviously that is not the outcome I want, but I believe in our election system, in democracy and honoring the will of Nevada voters. So whether you voted for me or Sheriff Lombardo, it is important that we now come together to continue moving the state forward. That is why I reached out to the Sheriff to wish him success.”
Sisolak will likely be the only incumbent governor nationwide to lose their seat, and Nevada will be the only blue-to-red governor flip this midterm election. Gubernatorial races in Arizona and Alaska have not yet been called, but Alaska’s Republican incumbent seems poised to win and no incumbent is running in Arizona. Democrats have flipped two governorships – in Massachusetts and Maryland. In both of those states, the Republican incumbent did not run for reelection.
Republican Stavros Anthony is also projected to win against Democrat Lisa Cano Burkhead, who Sisolak appointed to the position in 2021 after Kate Marshall resigned to take a job with the Biden administration. Anthony, a retired police officer, currently sits on Las Vegas City Council.
Many Nevada voters split their ticket, electing new Republicans into the state’s top two constitutional offices but backing Democrats in the secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer races. The hotly contested U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt is still too close to call.
With his 2018 win over then-Attorney General Laxalt, Sisolak became the first Democratic governor elected in Nevada since 1994.
Sisolak’s loss this year strips Democrats of their state government trifecta, which the party took advantage of to raise the minimum wage, pass criminal justice reform, expand voter access and redraw political maps that benefit them.
The Nevada State Legislature is projected to continue having a Democratic majority in both chambers.
Lombardo prevailed over a crowded Republican primary that included former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, who without evidence claimed election fraud after losing. Lombardo was quickly seen by Democrats as the biggest threat in a statewide race because he had name recognition in Southern Nevada but no political background to criticize.
It appears their fears were well founded.
As governor, Sisolak piloted the uncharted waters of COVID-19 – a pandemic that closed the Las Vegas Strip for the first time since President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. On the campaign trail, Lombardo routinely criticized Sisolak for his handling of the covid pandemic.
Sisolak attempted to counter the criticisms with reminders that the resort industry pushed him to shut down the Strip.
“They made it through the recession. They made it through 1 October. They knew if this got as bad as people were saying it was going to get and we’re having dozens of people dying in properties, they didn’t think they’d ever come back from that, in terms of being a tourist capital,” he told the Current in an interview last month.
Sisolak promised “no new taxes” during his reelection campaign, but he would not rule out tweaking the state’s archaic property tax calculation, lifting caps put in place 20 years ago, and lowering the sales tax rate while broadening the base. Before he was governor, Sisolak as chair of the powerful Clark County Commission oversaw the creation of the legal cannabis industry and championed $750 million in public funding for a football stadium.
Lombardo’s gubernatorial campaign website states he “will never raise taxes.”
Lombardo was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, who called Nevada a “cesspool of crime” at a rally in rural Nevada. On his end, Lombardo has tried to characterize rising crime as a symptom of failed Democratic policies set at the state level, not his leadership as the sheriff of the most populous county in the state.
Like moderate conservative candidates across the country have done in campaigns, Lombardo walked a fine line between embracing Trump (so as not to lose the Republican base) while tempering enthusiasm for the former president (to appeal to moderates).
During the only gubernatorial debate of the election cycle, Lombardo called Trump a “sound president” but declined to say he was a great one, saying, “I wouldn’t use that adjective. I wouldn’t say great.” Later that day, Lombardo’s campaign issued a statement praising Trump.
Lombardo’s statements on abortion also evolved over time.
He said he would govern through “a pro-life lens,” and eliminate Sisolak’s executive order protecting people seeking abortions in Nevada and the medical professionals who perform them. He later backed off and said he would not strike the order. He has also backed off his previous support for a federal ban on abortions after 13 weeks gestation.
“I thought about it more and evaluated. Not my political position or my campaign. I just thought about it more,” he said during a debate.
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