Republican Joe Lombardo, the popular sheriff of Clark County, will defeat Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak after arguing that he did not do enough to get the economy moving after the devastating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nevada has been a battleground state since the early 1990s, but Joe Biden narrowly clinched victory in the Silver State in 2020 despite significant effort by Donald Trump, particularly in Nevada’s rural areas. Democrats have made gains in competitive races in recent years by relying, in part, on turning out working class voters and Latinos, two key constituencies in a state that is heavily reliant on tourism as well as the hospitality and service industries.
But those two voter blocs were among the hardest-hit by the economic downturn during the pandemic, which sent unemployment in Nevada soaring to 30% in April of 2020 – the highest in the nation and more than twice the US unemployment rate at that time. The state’s workers then faced a double hit as inflation rose and gas prices topped $5 a gallon in a state where many people must drive long distances to work.
That created an especially sour mood among voters as Sisolak embarked on his reelection campaign. Though the Democratic governor touted the recovery in the state’s labor market, Lombardo argued that Sisolak was painting a distorted picture of Nevadans’ economic struggles, because many Nevadans are still underemployed, he said. Lombardo also accused Sisolak of crushing businesses in the state with Covid-19 restrictions and onerous regulations. He said Sisolak was too slow to reopen schools and businesses, slowing the state’s recovery. But the Democratic governor pushed back by stating his primary focus was to “save lives.”
Sisolak conceded Thursday evening before the race had been called, noting that it appeared he would fall “a percentage point or so short of winning.”
“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 said in a statement. He also noted that he had presided over a tough few years, including a “once-in-a-century pandemic” and “the stresses and strains of global inflation.”
“I know it has been a challenge for many of you and I couldn’t be prouder of how this state has worked to get us to a better day,” Sisolak said. “I also am proud that we made the tough decisions during COVID that helped save an estimated 30,000 Nevada lives even if those decisions sometimes had tough political ramifications.”
Lombardo called his win “a victory for all Nevadans who want our state to get back on track.”
“It’s a victory for small business owners, for parents, for students, and for law enforcement. It’s a victory for all Nevadans who believe that our best and brightest days are ahead of us,” Lombardo said in a statement.
Lombardo was one of the rare GOP candidates backed by both Trump and the Republican establishment. During the general election, he, at times, sought to keep his distance from Trump as he tried to win over moderate and independent voters. During a debate with Sisolak, Lombardo said he wouldn’t describe Trump as a “great” president and said he did not agree with Trump’s false assertions that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
But Sisolak suggested that Lombardo was giving different answers to different audiences. He also relentlessly attacked Lombardo’s shifts on abortion, which is protected in Nevada up to 24 weeks by a 1990 voter referendum. Lombardo argued that Nevada’s current law should stay in place, but Sisolak noted that he had changed his position several times during the course of the campaign. In May, for example, Lombardo told a columnist he would support sending voters a referendum moving the 24-week limit to 13 weeks. But he later said he had thought more about that potential change and no longer supported it. Still, Sisolak portrayed his Republican opponent as a threat to women’s reproductive rights.
Sisolak did not invite Biden to campaign with him in the final stretch, but he also argued the president was being unfairly blamed for inflation, as well as problems that he inherited from Trump.
This story has been updated with additional details.