LAS VEGAS — Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has won Nevada’s Republican primary for governor, NBC News projects.
With 37 percent of precincts reporting, Lombardo, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, had 43 percent of the vote, while retired professional boxer Joey Gilbert, who was endorsed by the state Republican Party, got 22 percent. Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller got 12 percent.
Lombardo now advances to the general election to face Gov. Steve Sisolak, considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic governors in the U.S.
Recent polling has shown Lombardo and Sisolak in a virtual tie, through Sisolak’s approval ratings haven't experienced quite the beating of President Joe Biden's or other Democratic governors.
Biden won Nevada two years ago by just 2.4 percentage points — or just under 33,600 votes — and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report has rated the state’s governor's race a toss-up. Sisolak won his first term, in 2018, against Adam Laxalt, now running for U.S. Senate, by about 4 percentage points.
At an election night party at an Italian restaurant, Lombardo took the stage late and addressed the more than 100 supporters who had stuck around waiting for results come in. He ripped into Sisolak, saying he’d “failed” Nevadans, while hailing his victory as a "win for Nevadans across the state."
"It’s a win for parents and their children’s education. It’s a win for safer communities. And it’s a win for small business owners, those three things,” Lombardo said.
Lombardo added that when people ask him what he stands for, his answer is “very simple: the economy, education, law and order.”
In a possible preview of an economy-centric general election message, Lombardo accused Sisolak of failing to “work to find a bipartisan solution to help [people] cope with the rising cost of inflation.”
Sisolak, for his part, slammed Lombardo in a blistering statement as a "candidate who wants to tear away our progress."
"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," Sisolak added. "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."
Lombardo has consistently led the broad field of Republican candidates in polls, and he was already far ahead by the time Trump endorsed him in late April. But Lombardo's win will give Trump another endorsement to brag about after the former president's decidedly mixed record in picking winners in Republican primaries so far this year.
Lombardo, the sheriff of the state’s most populous county (which includes Las Vegas and its sprawling suburbs), highlighted his record as the county’s top law enforcement officer. Following national trends among Republican candidates, Lombardo has also focused on election security as a top issue, though he's said that Biden was legitimately elected president and that there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute voter fraud in Nevada.
He’s also emphasized other familiar Republican talking points, such as vowing to ban the teaching of critical race theory from the state’s public schools and vetoing any tax increases proposed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Many of Lombardo's positions on gun safety, however, appear to be far from the mainstream. He has emphasized that he helped state lawmakers get rid of Clark County’s gun registry in 2015, supports the right of Nevadans to create their own “ghost guns,” and opposes the state’s “red flag” laws. Lombardo, though, supports universal background checks for gun sales.
The governor's race, however, is likely to come down to economic issues, like inflation and the rising cost of basic goods.
Las Vegas’ hotels and casinos were ravaged by the pandemic, but the tourism industry has made a robust recovery under Sisolak.
However, the cost of goods like gasoline and housing in the state are well above national averages. For example, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in Nevada on Tuesday was $5.67 — compared to $5.02 nationally and trailing only California — according to the American Automobile Association. Rents in Clark County are also rising faster compared to other major metropolitan areas in the U.S.
In a brief interview with NBC News after casting his own vote at a Las Vegas polling place, Lombardo expressed optimism about a victory, calling Tuesday a “great day,” and about his desire to get Nevada “moving forward.”
He said election security remained a top priority, adding it was “appropriate to have concerns” and “hopefully we can move on that once elected.”
Many who voted for Lombardo said they did so in large part because of his law-and-order message.
“He’s a good person, and he was by far the best candidate. Law and order is something we all want,” Sally Doebler said Tuesday at a Las Vegas community center.
Tom Berenato, a two-time Trump voter and Clark County resident, said he liked Lombardo’s “record” as sheriff, but it was Trump’s support that put him over the edge.
“He has the right credentials, but the endorsement of him was nice," he said. "It helped me make up my mind.”