COVID Lockdown Helps Bounce Democratic Governor in Nevada
While a national political audience, eyeing the razor-thin margin for partisan control of the United States Senate, eagerly awaits the nail-biting finish between incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto (D–Nev.) and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, people who actually live in Nevada have just made a more forthright decision about how their lives were governed during the height of COVID-19: They didn’t like it.
Joe Lombardo, the Republican sheriff of Clark County, has been declared by both Decision Desk HQ and The Nevada Independent to be the winner of the state’s gubernatorial race over Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak, after campaigning relentlessly against Sisolak’s “draconian” pandemic shutdown of casinos and imposition of COVID-related mandates. Sisolak conceded Friday night. With 93 percent of ballots counted, Lombardo has 49.2 percent of the vote, Sisolak 47 percent; the margin of 21,216 votes dwarfs Laxalt’s rapidly vanishing 798-vote lead over Cortez Masto with around 100,000 left to count. It’s the first time in 40 years a sitting governor has lost a general re-election in Nevada, and so far the only incumbent nationwide to get bounced.
“Sisolak’s [Vegas Strip shutdown] may be the single biggest reason he’s in serious danger of losing his job,” Governing magazine foreshadowed in a piece Monday about Republican gubernatorial candidates using COVID policies to punch above their expected weight in the West. “His response to the pandemic and especially his decision to shutter businesses as the outbreak spread became one of the Republicans’ main campaign attacks,” reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal Tuesday.
If anti-lockdown policies led to easy reelection victories for Govs. Ron DeSantis (R–Fla.), Brian Kemp (R–Ga.), and Jared Polis (D–Colo.), Sisolak might be the cleanest case of a pro-lockdown incumbent getting scalped. Not only was Nevada’s massive hospitality industry infuriated by watching tourists and conferences flock to open Florida, but the governor also had to contend with a messy pay-to-play scandal involving a well-connected but ineffectual COVID testing company.
“The emergence of the Northshore scandal probably cut him, perhaps enough to cost him the race even though he did his best to distance himself from it,” the terrific Nevada political observer Jon Ralston wrote the Sunday before the election. “Sisolak has been relentless and ubiquitous. But it probably won’t be enough because people are still mad about COVID restrictions and a governor is the most visible person for people to vent their spleens about all the ills of the world when a president is not on the ballot.”
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