GOP gubernatorial field takes shape

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman
Courtesy Photo


With the filing deadline still nearly six months away, seven Republican candidates have announced their intentions to run for governor of Nevada to unseat Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2022.

An eighth prospective candidate, U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, who openly mulled a race for governor, is predicted to pass on the governor’s race when he makes a promised announcement in October. He’s expected to run for a sixth-term in Congress.

Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller entered the race on Sept. 20 to become a front-runner in the crowded field.

Heller, 61, has won four statewide elections – three as Secretary of State, beginning in 1994, and a full term in the Senate in 2012, after his appointment by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2011.

A Carson City native, Heller also served in Congress from 2007 to 2011, and was a Nevada Assemblyman from 1990 to 1994.

However, in the 2018 midterm election, Heller lost reelection by a 5-point margin to political newcomer Sen. Jacky Rosen.

Heller had difficulty in the era of Donald Trump. He angered GOP base voters in 2016 by withholding his support from Trump and was mocked by activist Democrats in 2018 for his superlative praise lavished on then-President Trump.

In the Senate, Heller established a record and reputation as a moderate-leaning conservative.

In his gubernatorial announcement event, Heller staked out firmly conservative positions. He blamed Sisolak for putting Nevada “at the top of every bad list in America, including for unemployment rates, crime rates, graduation rates and suicide rates.”

Previously, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo became a front-runner with his June 28 announcement of candidacy.

A 45-year resident of Las Vegas, Lombardo, 58, is a U.S. Army veteran who joined the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department as an officer in 1988.

A lifelong Republican, Lombardo now leads the LVMPD overseeing 5,700 police officers. Narrowly elected sheriff in November 2014 (51%-49%), he was re-elected in June 2018 with an impressive 73% of the vote, defeating four challengers.

Lombardo’s announcement positioned himself as a law-and-order candidate critical of Democrats “focusing on felon’s rights, weakening penalties for crimes and handcuffing the police.” He promised to veto any proposed tax increase and support “school choice” alternatives to traditional public schools.

Lombardo’s campaign is being guided by a campaign consultant team previously associated with Heller. Mike Slanker and Ryan Erwin are veteran GOP Nevada political operatives. An independent PAC supporting Lombardo has already submitted a $2.1 million campaign finance filing months before an end-of-year deadline.

North Las Vegas Mayor John Jay Lee gained national attention on April 6 by announcing his candidacy for governor on “Fox and Friends” and by changing parties to become a Republican.

First elected in 2013, Lee, 66, was re-elected in 2017. He previously served in the Assembly (1996-2000) and state Senate (2004-2012) as a Democrat. A Trump voter in 2020, Lee said he was leaving the “elitist” and “socialist” Democrats to join the GOP.

Joey Gilbert, a Reno personal injury and criminal defense attorney, has positioned himself on the political outer fringe of the race. Gilbert, 45, is a former professional boxer, reality TV personality and marijuana dispensary owner.

In announcing his candidacy June 12, Gilbert claimed Donald Trump won Nevada by 44,000 votes and was “still our president.”

On Jan. 6, Gilbert climbed the steps of the Capitol and was advertised as a speaker at an anti-vaccine rally that day. His outsider platform centers on coronavirus conspiracy theories and having future vote counts supervised by the National Guard.

Three of the GOP candidates for governor have either never run or never won elective office. Guy Nohra (venture capitalist), Dr. Fred Simon (surgeon) and Tom Heck (Air Force veteran) have a steep climb to gain public awareness of their candidacies.

Jim Hartman resides in Genoa. Email


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