The victory for Lombardo, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, puts a Republican back in the top job in the pivotal presidential battleground state and could have major implications on the future of education and criminal justice in the swing state.
His projected win comes after days of delays in the processing of ballots in Clark County, the largest county in the state and the one that includes Las Vegas.
Sisolak conceded the race on Friday night.
"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," he 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. That is why I reached out to the sheriff to wish him success," Sisolak added.
Lombardo later issued a statement saying he was "honored to have the opportunity to protect and serve our entire state."
“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," he said.
The Friday announcements came after officials said on election night that ballots received in drop boxes or postmarked on Election Day would not be immediately counted. (Nevada state law allows mailed in ballots to arrive days later, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and arrive before Saturday evening.)
Subsequently, officials spent the next few days counting those ballots — a period that saw Lombardo’s lead shrink slightly as votes came in from the solidly blue county, but his lead ultimately held.
During the campaign, Lombardo hammered Sisolak with a message focused around a trio of kitchen-table issues — the economy, crime and education — though he often struggled to explain to voters his position on abortion. Lombardo has said his “personal belief is pro-life,” but he has acknowledged that abortion is legal under Nevada law until the 24th week of pregnancy, while also having said that he would support a voter referendum that would propose changing the law to ban abortion after the 13th week of pregnancy. He has also at times stumbled in how to manage his affiliation with Trump.
His victory, however, suggests that voters in the state were not turned off by those struggles, and that he was able to leverage concerns over rising prices and crime and an uptick in violence in the state’s public schools into a narrow victory.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Nevada had emerged as a weak spot for Democratic incumbents, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, in part because economic issues have hit its residents particularly hard.
Gas prices in the state, for example, have remained far higher than the national average (a gallon of regular gasoline was only more expensive in California and Hawaii, according to the AAA’s latest survey of prices), and rents in Clark County, including in Las Vegas, have risen faster compared with other major metropolitan areas in the U.S.
In addition, Las Vegas’ hotels and casinos were ravaged by the pandemic, although the tourism industry made a robust recovery under Sisolak.
And despite rising crime rates that some political watchers in the state had said could make the issue a vulnerability for Lombardo, the sheriff of the state’s largest county, he instead tied his crime messaging to issues of school safety and education.
He frequently attacked Sisolak over the increase in public school violence in the state, a controversial decision to alter funding for a popular reading program, pandemic school closings and what Lombardo claims is a pervasiveness of “social-reform curriculum” — a phrase he and his campaign said equates to “teaching kids what to think instead of how to think.”
The approach — part of a broader effort by GOP candidates to make education policy a campaign strength — evidently connected with voters.
Lombardo’s path to victory appears to have also revolved around his ability to appeal to the state’s large chunk of independent voters. Lombardo, unlike many other candidates for office endorsed by Trump, remained firm in his belief and public rhetoric that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president and that the 2020 race was in no way stolen from Trump.
While Lombardo had claimed that voter fraud had occurred in the state during the 2020 race, he also frequently noted that it would have never been enough to change the outcome.
At his only debate with Sisolak, Lombardo even said, “It bothers me,” when asked about Trump’s repeated false claims about the 2020 election, which he agreed undermined confidence in the electoral system.
“I’m not shying away from that,” Lombardo said. “I don’t stand by him in that aspect.”
Asked whether he thought Trump was a “great president,” Lombardo said, “I wouldn’t use that adjective.
Days later, however, Lombardo stood alongside Trump at a rally outside Reno for him and other Republican candidates as the former president boasted of the size of the crowd of protesters on Jan. 6 shortly before they stormed the Capitol.