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Sheriff Joe Lombardo, endorsed by Trump, wins Nevada Republican primary for governor

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, left, motions before a Republican primary debate for Nevada governor on May 25 in Las Vegas.
John Locher
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, left, motions before a Republican primary debate for Nevada governor on May 25 in Las Vegas.

Updated June 15, 2022 at 3:41 AM ET

RENO, Nevada — Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak will face Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in November, according to primary race calls by The Associated Press.

Sisolak, a Democrat, shrugged off a challenge from former Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins — a longshot candidate who raised less than $10,000 in campaign funding, according to the most recent filings.

Meanwhile, Lombardo, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, had to face members of his own party campaigning even further to the right in the state's top primaries. He beat Joey Gilbert, his closest competitor, whom he was leading in polling.

In the primary, Republicans campaigned on the Democratic governor's response to the pandemic over the last couple of years. Sisolak issued executive orders to temporarily close businesses, then imposed occupancy caps and mask mandates as infection rates improved.

Lombardo, who became nationally known after the mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas in 2017, capitalized on the anxiety many Nevadans felt during the lockdowns. He blamed Sisolak for lost wages, while ignoring disproportionately high death rates in some rural, conservative counties that bucked public health guidance. Not to be outdone, Gilbert staked out an anti-COVID vaccine position.

Lombardo has also cast doubt on the 2020 results without explicitly calling them fraudulent, a balancing act that likely helped him in a state where Trump's popularity eclipsed that of President Biden — even though he lost the state during the actual election.

Gilbert, a far-right upstart candidate and prolific supporter of Trump's election lies, challenged the results of his own race.

"I will concede nothing," he wrote in a Facebook post.

During a debate hosted by Las Vegas news station KLAS-TV in May, Lombardo's opponents challenged his conservative credentials. Gilbert and former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller accused him of enabling illegal immigration because his department ended its immigration detainer agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We refer to him among us as 'Sanctuary Joe' for a reason," Gilbert said.

But Lombardo dismissed their attacks, saying his officers still collaborate with ICE in an unofficial capacity.

Sisolak enters the general election with a 12-point lead over Lombardo, according to a poll by the University of Nevada, Reno. But the race will be an uphill battle as Democrats around the country struggle with high inflation and Biden's poor performance in recent polls.

Copyright 2022 KUNR Public Radio

Bert Johnson
Bert is KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.