Too early to call Nevada governor for Sisolak or Lombardo

LAS VEGAS (AP) — After people in long lines at a few polling places in Nevada made it to ballot boxes, results trickled in slowly in the race between first-term Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and his challenger, Republican Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.

Minutes after the last polling sites closed in Las Vegas and Reno after 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sisolak told election night supporters at the Encore resort on the Las Vegas Strip they could go home because it would be a few days before results are known.

“We said it was going to be close and it is,” Sisolak said. ”We ask you to please be patient. We need to make sure every single vote is counted. When that job is done, I believe we’re going to win this thing.”

Lombardo campaign aide Elizabeth Ray declined immediate comment from a Republican vote results watch party at the Red Rock Resort in the Summerlin neighborhood of Las Vegas.

The campaign was costly and contentious, with airwaves and the internet awash in recent weeks with ads sponsored by the candidates, their parties and political action committees aiming to amplify differences between the two.

Crime and safety; criminal justice and immigration policies; abortion; the economy, inflation, gasoline prices and housing costs; education; and health care and a state-managed public health insurance option were among the key issues in the race — along with former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Lombardo.

“A merry mess of issues,” observed Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno.

Roughly three-fourths of Nevada voters say things in the country are heading in the wrong direction, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 2,200 voters in the state.

The economy was at the top of many Nevada voters’ minds, with about 5 in 10 calling it the most important issue facing the country. Immigration, abortion, crime and climate change followed behind, with about 1 in 10 voters naming each of those their top issue.

Voters view the economy negatively, with nearly 8 in 10 saying economic conditions are either not so good or poor. Only about 2 in 10 call the economy excellent or good. And about a third of voters say their family is falling behind financially.

About 5 in 10 called inflation the single most important factor in deciding how to vote, according to the survey. But Nevada voters were about evenly split over whether they think inflation is due to President Joe Biden’s policies or factors outside his control.

The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that recognized a constitutional right to abortion, also played a role in most voters’ decisions, with nearly 8 in 10 calling it a factor in how they cast their ballot. About a quarter call it the single most important factor in their vote.

Nevada is a key national battleground state that Trump failed to carry in 2016 or 2020. Biden defeated Trump two years ago by a slim 2.4 percentage points.

Voters register reliably Republican in conservative small towns dotting vast rangeland in 15 of the state’s 17 counties. The state’s main population center, Clark County, in and around Las Vegas, is solidly Democratic. Washoe County and the Reno area tilt slightly to the GOP.

Nonpartisan, libertarian and other parties, combined, attract 700,000 of the state’s 1.8 million registered voters — more than either major party.

Sisolak, 68, was chairman of the Clark County Commission before becoming Nevada’s first Democratic governor in two decades. He was criticized by some Republicans for closing businesses, schools and casinos during the COVID-19 pandemic, but easily won his party nomination for a second term.

Five years ago, Sisolak praised Lombardo amid the glare of the national spotlight after a gunman killed 58 people at an open-air concert on the Las Vegas Strip. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Sisolak backers pointed during the campaign to crime in Las Vegas during Lombardo’s term as sheriff and cited Lombardo’s staffing decisions in a department with about 6,000 employees.

As governor, Sisolak signed the public insurance option created last year by the Democratic-led Legislature. He declared that as long as he is governor he'll oppose any attempt to limit the right to an abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Lombardo, who topped a crowded GOP primary field, derided the public health option with an epithet during one candidates’ forum. He said he looks at abortion through a “pro-life lens,” but acknowledges that Nevada voters in 1990 approved a referendum allowing the procedure up to 24 weeks.

Lombardo, 59, started as a police officer in Las Vegas in 1988 and served two terms as nonpartisan elected Clark County sheriff, the head of the largest police agency in Nevada. He acknowledges that crime has risen in the past two years but blames funding limits and legislative mandates.

Both candidates said they want to improve education in a state consistently ranked at or near the bottom in funding and performance with high student-to-teacher ratios. Bids to break up the sprawling Clark County School District, with more than 300,000 students, have stalled.

Both said teachers should be paid more. But the powerful teachers union in Clark County, which backed Sisolak in 2018, declined to make any endorsement this election.

In final campaign contribution and expense reports, Sisolak reported spending $13.6 million this year, and Lombardo reported spending $4.8 million. Both reported more than $1 million to spend in the final weeks, and political committees have poured millions more into the race.

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Ken Ritter, The Associated Press