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VICTOR JOECKS: Lee’s conservative record gives him a chance against Lombardo

If Sheriff Joe Lombardo had North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee’s policy record, he’d easily win the Republican gubernatorial nomination. But he doesn’t, which gives Lee an outside shot at victory.

Lombardo remains the prohibitive favorite. He has high name ID and raised a ton of money. A PAC backing Lombardo has spent heavily too. Money may sound trivial, but it’s extremely influential.

Last year, Better Nevada, the PAC supporting Lombardo, spent six-figures on TV ads boosting the sheriff. Afterward, it put out a poll showing that Lombardo had a commanding lead, including with very conservative voters. “Strong pro-life and strong Second Amendment supporters” favored Lombardo by 19 points.

Those would be surprising results if based solely on Lombardo’s and Lee’s positions.

In a recent interview, News 4 in Reno asked Lombardo about his position on the killing of preborn children. For context, Nevada has very liberal abortion laws. Parental notification isn’t even required if a minor wants an abortion.

Lombardo said he was pro-life. When pressed further, he said, “I support the existing laws that are in the state of Nevada.”

You aren’t pro-life if you support laws that allow abortion on demand. I followed up with his campaign on this contradiction.

“As governor, any law passed by the state Legislature will be either signed or vetoed based upon Joe’s pro-life position,” campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Ray said in a statement.

That’s in stark contrast with Lee, who has been proactive in being pro-life and has the record to back it up.

“I vow to be the most pro-life governor in the history of Nevada,” Lee said in a statement. “I had an ‘A’ rating from Right to Life during my time in the Legislature.”

Then, there are guns. Lombardo supports universal background checks. He once said there was “no need to have a high-capacity magazine.” In contrast, Lee notes that he once was the NRA’s legislator of the year.

Lombardo has a good explanation for how he continued helping ICE with deportations after stopping Metro’s formal partnership with the agency. But it’s still unlikely to sit well with conservative voters.

Lombardo has done a good job making the case for school choice on the campaign trail. Hopefully, he would push for education options if elected. But Lee has already done that as mayor of North Las Vegas. The city started a micro academy after Gov. Steve Sisolak allowed schools to keep their doors closed. The academy posted massive learning gains too.

Lee’s challenge is getting his message out to Republican voters. He loaned his campaign $1 million last November. That accounted for the majority of the $1.6 million he raised last year. Another $2 million or $3 million in personal funds would be very helpful.

Another problem for Lee is that he used to be a Democrat. He changed his registration shortly before announcing his run for governor. His party registration obviously didn’t keep him from having a conservative voting record. The fiscal turnaround he engineered in North Las Vegas is impressive too. But it’s an easy attack.

A crowded field helps Lombardo too. A fading Dean Heller and energetic Joey Gilbert likely have supporters who would otherwise prefer Lee over Lombardo.

Lombardo’s strongest pitches are probably his electability and law enforcement background. The most likely outcome is that he wins the primary. But if Lee has enough money, he has a strong case to make that’s he been a longtime champion of conservative values, especially on life and guns.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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