Republican Joe Lombardo unseated Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, notching a win for the GOP in an otherwise tough year for the party’s candidates for governor.
Lombardo’s defeat of Sisolak, who was the first Democrat to hold the governorship in two decades, ends four years of Democratic dominance in Nevada, where the party has enjoyed total control of state government.
The race remained a toss-up through late summer and fall, with recent polling showing Lombardo, the elected sheriff of populous Clark County who was backed by former President Donald Trump, ahead in a consistently tight contest in the presidential swing state.
Lombardo, an Army veteran with decades of law enforcement experience who was first elected to the sheriff’s post in 2014, clinched the Republican nomination in June with Trump’s backing, beating out more than a dozen primary challengers, including former Sen. Dean Heller.
The two-term sheriff campaigned on a law-and-order and pro-business platform, accusing Sisolak of being corrupt and soft on crime and attacking his response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Republican’s campaign hammered Sisolak for keeping businesses closed during the pandemic and as late as last month accused him of continuing to “shut down the state.” He argued the Sisolak administration “devastated our economy” by keeping many businesses, including those on the Las Vegas Strip, closed while some other states reopened. Lombardo promised never to raise taxes and said he would enact proposals that drew businesses to the state.
He accused Sisolak of making schools unsafe, repeatedly pointing to a “restorative justice” law the governor signed in his first year which proposed alternatives to expulsion and suspension for students who committed minor infractions, intended at slowing the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. The law has received renewed attention by opponents amid a violence uptick in southern Nevada schools.
Lombardo pledged during the campaign to expand charter school access and give parents more say over their children’s curriculum.
In the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June, Sisolak and his allies seized on the issue of abortion rights. Lombardo was forced to balance national Republicans’ position on abortion with that of many Nevadans, who traditionally support individual liberties.
The sheriff said he would respect the state’s 1990 ballot referendum upholding the right to the procedure, and his campaign and outside allies ran ads characterizing Democrats’ talking points as exaggerated. But his campaign also sponsored an event with an anti-abortion organization. In at least one ad, Lombardo’s campaign sought to turn the attention back to economic and crime-focused issues, illustrating the precariousness of the issue in the state.