Republican Joe Lombardo has won the race for governor in Nevada, NBC News projects, narrowly beating Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak.
The win for Lombardo, who was backed by former President Donald Trump, puts a Republican back to the top of the job in the pivotal presidential battlefield state and could have major implications for the future of education and criminal justice in the swing state.
His anticipated win comes after days of delays in ballot processing in Clark County, the state’s largest county and the one that includes Las Vegas.
Sisolak admitted the race Friday night.
“While the votes are still rolling in — and we need to have every vote counted and every vote heard — it looks like we’re going to be a percentage point or so short of winning,” he said in a statement.
“Of course that’s not the outcome I want, but I believe in our electoral system, in democracy and honoring the will of Nevada voters. So whether you voted for me or for Sheriff Lombardo, it’s important that we come together now to continue moving the Sheriff’s Department. That’s why I’ve reached out to the sheriff to wish him luck,” Sisolak added.
Lombardo later released a statement saying he was “honored to have the opportunity to protect and serve our entire state.”
“Our win is a win for all Nevadans who want to get our state back on track. It’s a win for small business owners, for parents, for students, and for law enforcement. It is a victory for all Nevada residents who believe that our best and most beautiful 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 counted immediately. (Nevada state law allows ballots to arrive days later, as long as they are postmarked on Election Day and arrive before Saturday night).
Then officials spent the next few days counting those ballots — a period when Lombardo’s lead dwindled somewhat, as votes came in from the solidly blue province, but eventually held up.
During the campaign, Lombardo hammered Sisolak with a message that focused on a trio of kitchen table issues — the economy, crime and education — though he often struggled to explain his stance on abortion to voters. Lombardo has said his “personal belief is pro-life” but has acknowledged that abortion is legal under Nevada law until the 24th week of pregnancy, while also said that he would support a voter referendum proposing to change the law to ban abortion after the 13th week of pregnancy. He has also stumbled on how to manage his relationship with Trump at times.
However, his win suggests that voters in the state were not deterred by that battle and that he could use concerns about rising prices and crime and an upsurge in violence in the state’s public schools to clinch a narrow victory.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Nevada had emerged as a weak spot for Democratic incumbents, including Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, in part because economic problems hit residents especially hard.
For example, gas prices in the state have remained much higher than the national average (a gallon of regular gasoline was more expensive only in California and Hawaii, according to the latest AAA price survey), and rents in Clark County, including Las Vegas, have increased faster compared to others big metropolis areas in the US
In addition, Las Vegas hotels and casinos were ravaged by the pandemic, although the tourism industry under Sisolak made a strong recovery.
And despite rising crime rates that some political observers in the state had said could make the issue a vulnerability for Lombardo, the sheriff of the state’s largest county, he instead linked his crime reports to issues of school safety and education.
He regularly attacked Sisolak over the rise in violence in state public schools, a controversial decision to change funding for a popular reading program, pandemic school closures and what Lombardo claims is a ubiquity of the “social reform curriculum” — a phrase he uses. and his campaign equated to “teach children what to think instead of how to think.”
The approach — part of a wider effort by GOP candidates to make education policy a campaign strength — was clearly linked to voters.
Lombardo’s path to victory also seems to revolve around his ability to appeal to state power big piece independent voters. Lombardo, unlike many other candidates for office endorsed by Trump, remained steadfast 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 claimed that voter fraud had taken place in the state during the 2020 race, he also frequently commented that it would never have been enough to change the outcome.
During his lone debate with Sisolak, Lombardo even said “it bothers me” when asked about Trump’s repeated false claims about the 2020 election, which he believes undermined confidence in the electoral system.
“I’m not afraid of that,” said Lombardo. “I don’t support him in that regard.”
When asked if he thought Trump was a “great president,” Lombardo said, “I wouldn’t use that adjective.
Days later, however, Lombardo stood next to Trump at a rally outside Reno in front of him and other Republican candidates, such as the former president. boasted of the size from the crowd of protesters on January 6 shortly before storming the Capitol.