Republican Joe Lombardo is projected to unseat Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in Nevada after a tight race, handing the GOP their first pickup in a governor’s race this election cycle.
In a statement released before the race was called Friday night, Sisolak said it “appears we will fall a percentage point or so short of winning” and that he believes in “our election system, in democracy and honoring the will of Nevada voters.” He noted the struggles of the past four years — including the pandemic and inflation — and said he reached out to Lombardo to wish him success.
During the campaign, Lombardo, the sheriff of Clark County — which includes Las Vegas — criticized Sisolak’s handling of crime and the coronavirus pandemic and tapped into voters’ economic struggles in a state where inflation has remained especially high. He said he would be a “pro-life governor” but sought to play down the issue and said he would follow “the vote of the people,” as Sisolak accused him of changing positions out of political convenience.
“Our victory is a victory for all Nevadans who want our state to get back on track,” Lombardo said in a statement Friday night. “It’s a victory for small business owners, for parents, for students, and for law enforcement.”
Lombardo’s victory marks the GOP’s first gubernatorial pickup in a year when many Democratic incumbents defied GOP hopes of a red wave, prevailing in tight races in Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas and Oregon, where an independent candidate split the Democratic vote.
In contrast to others at the top of the GOP ticket in Nevada, Lombardo has rejected former president Donald Trump’s baseless claim the 2020 election was stolen and said at a debate that the falsehood bothered him. After prevailing over more than a dozen other candidates in a crowded GOP primary with Trump’s endorsement, he sometimes distanced himself from Trump but continued to campaign with the former president.
Lombardo also called to diversify Nevada’s tourism-dependent economy and criticized its public education system.
Sisolak’s election in 2018, as Democrats also held state legislature majorities, gave his party unified control of state government for the first time in decades.
Lombardo got extensive financial backing from Nevada businessman Robert Bigelow, the owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, who put more than $13 million into political action committees promoting Lombardo. That helped Lombardo compete with Sisolak’s fundraising advantage.
While Democrats have seen success in Nevada in recent years, statewide races are routinely decided by a couple points or less, and both parties expected this year’s contests to be close. Nevada had a Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, from 2011 to 2019.
Amy B Wang contributed to this report.