weather icon Clear

Steve Sisolak becomes Nevada’s first Democratic governor in decades

Updated November 7, 2018 - 1:34 am

In what was one of the tightest gubernatorial races in recent Nevada memory, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak upended a rising Republican star to become the Silver State’s first Democratic governor in two decades.

As of 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sisolak held 48.8 percent of the vote, compared to 45.9 percent for Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

“Today, people from every corner of the state stood up and turned out to say it’s time to bring people together. It’s time to prioritize our schools, our jobs and our health care. It’s time to stop the petty politics and get things done,” Sisolak said in his victory speech from Caesars Palace. “I want all of you to know that, no matter who you voted for, I will work my heart out for you.”

In a teary-eyed concession speech delivered shortly before midnight, Laxalt said he would help Sisolak in anyway he could.

“This was all of our campaign, not just my campaign. We can certainly take heart that we left it all on the field,” Laxalt said. “We fought as hard as we could. To come up short is always difficult.”

Sisolak will succeed Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is term-limited.

Sisolak, 64, has spent two decades in elected office in Nevada. He is the chairman of the Clark County Commission, a body in which he has served since 2008. He previously served 10 years as a Nevada System of Higher Education regent.

He survived a bitter primary battle with fellow Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani that not only forced him to spend a significant amount (more than $6 million before the primary alone) but also pulled him left of the the moderate campaign he had hoped to run in order to survive.

Sisolak attacked Laxalt for the Republican candidate’s desire to repeal the 2015 Commerce Tax championed by Sandoval, which has boosted education funding in the state, and for his early opposition to Medicaid expansion that the state received under the Affordable Care Act. Based on Tuesday night’s results, it appears that Sisolak’s message resonated with voters in the state.

Laxalt, 40, ran for governor after just one term as Nevada’s attorney general, which is the only other elected office he has held. He is the grandson of Nevada political giant Paul Laxalt, who was one of former President Ronald Reagan’s closest confidants and served as the state’s governor from 1967 to 1971 and as one of its U.S. senators from 1974 to 1987.

Laxalt, a former prosecutor in the navy who rose to the rank of lieutenant with the support of President Donald Trump, has run a campaign that energized the Republican base both in Nevada’s urban hubs and the rural parts the state.

His campaign focused heavily on conservatives’ fear that Nevada is moving too far to the political left, claiming that his Democratic opponent would do everything he could to turn Nevada into its more liberal western neighbor, California.

Laxalt was unable to overcome a handful of missteps along the campaign trail, including drawing signficant criticism from women’s groups after he said that he wanted to look at repealing Nevada’s laws protecting a women’s right to abortion, and the icy relationship with Sandoval, who withheld endorsement from the fellow Republican as his successor following a tense four years as the two clashed over policy and partisanship.

In total, the gubernatorial race saw unprecedented spending, with Sisolak’s campaign spending more than $13.5 million dating back to 2017, while Laxalt’s campaign spent $10 million.

The unprecedented level of spending dwarfs the amount seen in the last competitive race for governor in 2010, when Sandoval defeated Democrat Rory Reid in a race that saw the campaigns spend a combined total of $9.1 million.

The race also saw significant outside money, with the Republican Governors Association spending $9.9 million in Nevada and the Democratic Governors Association spending $7.7 million. The Koch network also got involved, spending more than $2 million to support Laxalt, while labor and teacher unions spent millions to help Sisolak.

And while Laxalt and Sisolak battled in the airwaves, they never made it to a debate stage for voters to see their contrasting styles — or contrasting policies — side by side.

Laxalt and Sisolak ran against independent Ryan Bundy, the son of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, as well as Libertarian Jared Lord and the Independent American Party’s Russell Best.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.