Republican candidates in Nevada are lining up to take on Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak next year as he seeks a second term.
Though the state is a perennial battleground, Democrats have come out ahead in recent elections. No Republican presidential candidate has won Nevada since George W. Bush in 2004, the state’s congressional delegation is made up of five Democrats and one Republican, and Democrats also control the Legislature, which became the first in the nation to have a female majority in 2018. That same year, Sisolak became the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years.
It appeared that the state could head down a similar path as Colorado, a Western swing state that’s gone from purple to reliably blue, but Republican gubernatorial candidates are betting Nevadans want a more conservative option. In early ads and speeches, they’ve emphasized their conservatism and attacked Sisolak for his coronavirus mitigation efforts, including mask mandates.
The race also comes following a progressive takeover of the state’s Democratic Party after candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America won top party leadership positions in March. In some parts of the country, warning about the rise of socialism can come across as an unrealistic, fear-mongering talking point. In Nevada, Republicans can now make a much more compelling case.
Still, Sisolak could prove challenging to unseat. A poll from OH Predictive Insights in July found he had a 52% approval rating, and 60% approved of his handling of the pandemic. The Cook Political Report has rated Nevada’s gubernatorial race as “likely Democrat.”
Here’s a look at the Republican candidates hoping to be Nevada’s next governor:
Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller
Heller’s attempting a comeback three years after losing his Senate seat to Democrat Jacky Rosen. Heller announced his gubernatorial bid Monday, and in his campaign announcement video, he criticized Sisolak for mask mandates and lockdowns.
In the past, Heller has been described as a moderate, but in an interview this week with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Heller called himself “the most conservative candidate” in the race. He hasn’t always seen eye to eye with former President Donald Trump, including a disagreement over health care in 2017, but Trump has campaigned for him.
“We may have had some personal differences, but when it came to the America First agenda, I supported it, I helped write it, and I support it to this day,” Heller told the Review-Journal.
Heller represented Nevada in the House from 2007 to 2013, and the Senate from 2013 to 2019.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo
Lombardo announced his campaign in June by promising to end the state’s single-party rule. During his announcement speech, Lombardo accused Sisolak of being the “most partisan governor in Nevada history” and of copying the “worst policies” of liberal governors across the country.
He received a high-profile Republican endorsement this summer from former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison. In an editorial for the Reno Gazette Journal, Hutchison said he was considering a run for governor himself, but decided against it so as to not further crowd the primary because Lombardo is “the conservative candidate with the best chance of bringing balance back to our state government.”
Lombardo was first elected Clark County sheriff in 2014 and has served two terms. He oversaw the investigation following the 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip that killed 58 people. Lombardo began his career in law enforcement as an officer with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in 1988.
North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee
Up until five months ago, Lee was a Democrat. In April, after progressives took the state party’s top leadership positions with the support of the the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, the North Las Vegas mayor announced he was leaving to become a Republican.
Lee is pitching his party switch as a plus, saying, “like Reagan and Trump, I switched parties” in his announcement video. “Socialists control the Democratic Party I once knew,” he said.
Lee said in a statement at the time that he “made the switch in my heart a long time ago” and voted twice for Trump. His campaign messaging is heavy on fighting socialism and his online campaign shop sells “Democrats Have Abandoned You” bumper stickers.
Lee previously served in the Nevada Legislature and was elected mayor in 2013. He is a stage 4 cancer survivor after being diagnosed in 2007.
Venture capitalist Guy Nohra
Nohra is the co-founder of Alta Partners, a life sciences-focused venture capital firm, and he announced his campaign last month. Nohra wrote on his website that Sisolak has “mimicked and implemented the failed policies of California” in Nevada. Nohra immigrated from Lebanon to the U.S. when he was young and became a U.S. citizen seven years after arriving.
Former professional boxer Joey Gilbert
Gilbert is a Reno attorney who spoke at a rally near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 before the building was stormed, though he said in a Facebook video he didn’t go inside the Capitol, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. Gilbert is anti-vaccine, denies the results of the 2020 presidential election and is a three-time National Collegiate Boxing Association national champion.