Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo emerged from a crowded field of candidates vying for the Republican nomination for Nevada governor, leading with more than 47 percent of the votes that had been counted as of Tuesday night.
The total represented only about 10 percent of the votes counted in Clark County; statewide figures weren’t available at press time. Lombardo was leading his nearest opponent, Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, by more than 27 percentage points with roughly 65,000 votes tallied, all in Clark County.
The Associated Press called the race for Lombardo at 12:20 a.m.
“I am ready to listen to you, to work for you and restore your trust in your governor,” Lombardo said at an election-night party at Panevino restaurant.
The two-term sheriff of Nevada’s most populous county will head into what will be a general election matchup against Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak, who held a substantial lead over his sole primary challenger as of Tuesday evening.
North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, who switched parties last year to run as a Republican in the race, was in third place with 12.5 percent of the votes tallied, and former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller was in fourth at 8.9 percent. Both Gilbert and Heller live in Northern Nevada.
Lombardo has been viewed as the front-runner for the Republican nomination since announcing his run last summer and has led the crowded 15-candidate pack in every major poll and in campaign cash raised. At the conclusion of a gubernatorial debate last month, Lombardo declared in closing remarks that “for all practical purposes, this primary is over.”
Lombardo spent the primary race fending off attacks from his fellow Republican candidates over his record, especially on on crime and immigration, and his opponents attempted to paint him as a RINO — a Republican in name only. But that became a harder pitch after former President Donald Trump threw his endorsement behind Lombardo in late April.
At his election party in Las Vegas, Lombardo thanked his campaign staff and volunteers, and quickly turned his rhetoric towards Sisolak and November. Lombardo repeated many of his prior attacks on Sisolak, honing in especially on the governor’s COVID-19 policies and saying the governor hasn’t done enough to address school violence, inflation or health care costs.
Gilbert, a fervid supporter of Trump and who spoke near the U.S. Capitol just before the Jan. 6, 2021, riots, looks positioned to finish second to Lombardo. He generated grassroots buzz as one of the most vocal critics of Sisolak’s COVID-19 policies and who has echoed conspiracy theories about voter fraud and the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas.
And before Tuesday night was over, Gilbert was already making claims about voter fraud without evidence, saying in a post on Facebook that “I smell a lawsuit,” and that he “will concede nothing.”
Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, who was subpoenaed by a congressional committee investigating the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 for his role in an effort to submit fake elector documents that sought to pledge Nevada’s electoral votes to Trump, said Tuesday that “there’s no indication” of fraud in the race and that “it’s disappointing that those comments come out of the Republican Party.”
Mirroring Nevada’s U.S. Senate GOP primary, Trump endorsed the front-runner in Lombardo while the state Republican party went with the less-established candidate in voting to endorse Gilbert at the party convention in April. But in the end, Republican voters diverged from their party’s endorsement and stuck with Trump’s pick.
No comeback kid
Heller had been hoping to make his political comeback after he lost his seat in 2018. The former senator was at odds with Trump over Heller’s opposition to a Republican measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The friction culminated at an event with Trump and Republican senators where the former president said, “He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”
Republican voters this year never seemed to latch on to Heller, who ran a more conservative campaign than he had in the past that included promising to put greater restrictions on abortions after previously saying he was pro-life and calling President Joe Biden an illegitimate president.
Of all the candidates, Heller was the most experienced. He had won four previous statewide campaigns, including three terms as secretary of state.
Other candidates, including Lee, venture capitalist Guy Nohra and Gardnerville surgeon Fred Simon, invested significant sums of their own money in hopes of making a dent in the campaign, with all three loaning more than $1 million to their respective campaigns as of the last fundraising reporting deadline, which included money raised through March 31.
Lombardo supporter and former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who sought unsuccessfully to clear the GOP field so the party could unite behind a single candidate, said Lombardo always led in the race.
“From Day 1, it hasn’t been competitive. Joe Lombardo has been our man, he’s continuing to be our man. He will be our man in November,” Hutchison said at Lombardo’s party.
On the Democratic side, Sisolak was far ahead of former Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins in the Democratic primary, with more than 90 percent of the votes tallied.
He took aim at Lombardo in a statement.
“Everything is at stake this year and I’m running against a candidate who wants to tear away our progress,” Sisolak’s statement said. “While flouting his official responsibilities on the campaign trail, Joe Lombardo failed to put Nevadans’ safety first — proving to be yet another politician with no vision just looking for a promotion. Nevadans deserve someone who will put in the work to lift up every family, not someone who has spent the last 12 months taking both sides and lying to voters about where he stands on the issues.”
Contact Colton Lochhead at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.