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The early return is in: Lombardo wins primary, but general remains in doubt

John L. Smith
John L. Smith

Move over CNN. With one vote counted, I am projecting Joe Lombardo the winner of the Republican Party’s gubernatorial primary in Nevada.

All right, this call might be premature. Perhaps I’m jumping the gun. Adam Laxalt hasn’t even filed a “preemptive” lawsuit alleging widespread voter fraud yet. Early voting doesn’t begin until May 28, and the primary election doesn’t take place until June 14.

But the only vote that appears to count in the Republican primary is the one Clark County Sheriff Lombardo received this past week from former President Donald Trump. In a state where Republican voters remain under the spell of Trump’s big lie about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, his endorsement cuts the primary competition to the quick.

It’s like receiving a hug and a kiss from the Godfather: warm, powerful, and creepy. And Lombardo landed it. Congratulations. 

Trump’s statement reads in part, “As the elected Sheriff of Clark County, Joe has fought some of the worst criminals and defended neighborhoods and communities from the horrific violence enabled by the Radical Left in our great Country.

“As Governor, Joe will fiercely Protect our under-siege Second Amendment, Oppose Sanctuary Cities, Support our Law Enforcement, Veto any Liberal Tax Increase, Protect Life, and Secure our Elections. Joe Lombardo is the leader Nevada needs, and he has my Complete and Total Endorsement for Governor!”

Presumably, Lombardo is blushing with pride and not embarrassment over accepting the endorsement of a man whose minions and true believers tried to overthrow a free and fair election by force.

Lombardo’s statement resolved any confusion about where he stands with Trump.

“I’m grateful to receive President Donald Trump’s endorsement today,” Lombardo said. “From his tough on crime policies to his unwavering support of law enforcement, I know that there has been no greater friend to veterans and police officers than President Trump.”

United States Capitol Police Officers might beg to differ, sheriff.

The mounting evidence of the Trump administration’s complicity in the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol makes suckers of his followers and those who remain under the influence of the Big Lie.  The administration’s rapacious corruption and self-dealing makes comments about Trump being tough on crime laughable.

With more damning facts emerging almost daily, of late from recordings of top Republicans admitting privately that Trump was responsible for Jan. 6, I wonder whether Lombardo will one day regret his decision to accept Trump’s seal of approval.

I realize such speculation must sound like sacrilege to many Nevada Republicans, who appear to appreciate watching the 15-candidate pack of gubernatorial candidates shouting their undying loyalty to Trump like the converted at a tent revival. 

Somewhere in Northern Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, and attorney Joey “Trump from the Jump” Gilbert were having a quiet cry and taking some me time. Talk about a couple of jilted stage-door Johnnies. After all that sucking up, Lombardo received the anointment. And removing their “iHeart Trump” tattoos will be so painful.

In North Las Vegas, John Lee must wonder what he had to do to prove his loyalty to Trump. I mean, he already changed political parties, and in commercials has been firing his shotgun as a reminder of his affection for the Second Amendment.  He really could have used that Trump endorsement to convince the skeptics in the GOP that he was the genuine article.

Considered a candidate capable of winning votes among Nevada independents, in no small part because he hadn’t gone overboard for the man from MAGA, Lombardo has now received a gift for the primary that promises to smell like an albatross come November. In fact, I think a lot of political observers watching the growing tsunami in Trump’s world would bet on it.

Lombardo has been inching to the right for weeks — getting hit by Democratic Party operatives and his primary opponents for vacillating on a variety of issues. Once reluctant to join the red hat brigade, he’s obviously decided to take comfort in that company.

Sheriffs are generally known for their ramrod straight constitutions, but in his first statewide campaign Lombardo is showing he’s becoming adept at bending with the political breezes. His shifting position on universal background checks provides just one example. What began last year as a firm endorsement of universal background checks has morphed into a softer line more in keeping with opponents who have been running as Second Amendment reactionaries.

If he sticks to his guns on gun checks, his primary opponents will howl. Move away from that completely reasonable position, and he’s branded a flip-flopper and a phony on an issue he knows plenty about because gun violence is plaguing his jurisdiction.

That’s politics, but it’s more than that. Issue positions are about beliefs and, ultimately, about character.  So are political alliances.

Now that he’s graciously accepted a kiss and a hug from the GOP’s Godfather, Joe Lombardo invites everything that comes with it. 

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR.


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