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Joe Lombardo wins Nevada governor’s race after Sisolak concedes

Updated November 11, 2022 - 7:19 pm

Republican Joe Lombardo will become Nevada’s next governor, making the unconventional leap from county sheriff to the state’s top executive office after unseating first-term Democrat Gov. Steve Sisolak by a razor-thin margin.

Sisolak, 68, who was Nevada’s first Democratic governor in nearly two decades, announced Friday afternoon that he had conceded the race and reached out to Lombardo to “wish him success.”

“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,” Sisolak said in a statement. “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.”

The Associated Press called the race at 6 p.m. Friday for Lombardo, who was leading Sisolak by more than 21,000 votes, a lead that became insurmountable despite mail-in ballots counted in the days following the election breaking heavily for Democrats.

“I’ve dedicated my life to protecting and serving our community, and now, I’m honored to have the opportunity to protect and serve our entire state as your next governor,” Lombardo said in statement. “Our victory is 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.”

Sisolak needed Democrat-leaning mail-in ballots to close the gap that Lombardo had built on Election Day, a scenario that played out in the Nevada’s races for U.S. Senate, secretary of state and treasurer. But Sisolak’s overall share of the vote trailed the Democrats in those races, while Lombardo ran better than many of the more conservative Republicans on the statewide ballot, a difference that was just enough for Lombardo to hold on for the victory.

His defeat ends four years of full Democratic control in Carson City, as the party held both the governor’s seat and both chambers of the state Legislature.

Despite Lombardo retaking the governor’s mansion for Republicans, Democrats look poised to not only hold onto their majorities in the Legislature, but actually expand them in both chambers — including a potential supermajority in the Assembly.

Key issues

Lombardo is set to give his first remarks as governor-elect on Monday at Rancho High School, his alma mater.

The gubernatorial race was largely defined by a handful of key issues, namely inflation, abortion rights, COVID-19 and crime, with Lombardo and Republicans railing against Sisolak on rising costs, gas prices and the governor’s response to the pandemic, which included the mandated shutdowns of business and prolonged restrictions.

Lombardo, a 62-year-old lawman who has served two terms as sheriff of Nevada’s most populous county, promised on the trail to repeal what he calls “soft on crime” legislation that Democrats have passed under Sisolak, specifically a 2019 criminal justice reform bill that sought to reduce the rate at which people return to prison, a bill that passed with bipartisan support.

Lombardo’s bid for the governor’s mansion survived an onslaught of attacks from Democrats and progressive groups over his stances and statements on abortion rights, which morphed and shifted more towards the middle after veering more conservative during a competitive and crowded Republican primary. It included Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, who questioned the primary results in court before finally endorsing Lombardo.

The Republican National Committee, which was heavily involved in supporting Lombardo during the campaign, congratulated the sheriff on his victory.

“Nevadans are tired of the failed leadership of Steve Sisolak and have voted in new representation. Governor-elect Joe Lombardo will bring prosperity and safety back to the Silver State,” committee spokeswoman Hallie Balch said in a statement.

Long career

Sisolak has spent more than 20 years in elected office in Nevada. His four years as governor have been largely overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which first gripped the Silver State 15 months into Sisolak’s term. His response to the pandemic — and especially his decision to shutter businesses as the outbreak spread — became one of the Republicans’ main campaign attacks throughout the election cycle.

“We’ve been through a lot these last four years, from a once-in-a-century pandemic to 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 in his concession statement. “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.”

Democratic Governors Association Chair and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper lauded Sisolak as a “consistent champion for Nevada,” in a statement Friday.

“Nevada is a stronger state and Nevada families will have a brighter future because of Steve’s hard work and dedication. We at the DGA are incredibly grateful to Gov. Sisolak and his administration for their incredible service,” Cooper said.

Sisolak promised to “continue to work hard on behalf of Nevada” for the remaining weeks of his term, which will end Jan. 2.

“You deserve no less. And upon leaving office, I will work in every way I can to make Nevada stronger,” Sisolak said. “It has been the honor of my life to be your governor and I want to thank you for giving me this incredible opportunity to serve.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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