Nevada Govt. Steve Sisolak and his Republican challenger Joe Lombardo both sought to distance themselves from the leaders of their respective parties in a Sunday debate, as they tried to appeal to the state’s swath of independent voters, many of whom are frustrated by inflation under President Joe Biden, but also tired of hearing former President Donald Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election.
Trump is headed to rural Nevada next Saturday for a rally with Lombardo, who is the sheriff of Clark County, and GOP Senate nominee Adam Laxalt. The two high-profile races in the Silver State, which Biden narrowly carried in 2020, are considered toss-ups by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.
When Lombardo was asked Sunday whether Trump was a “great president,” he said he wouldn’t “use that adjective.”
“I wouldn’t say great. I think he was a sound president. I think he had policies that he brought forward that were beneficial to the country and supported the country and moved the country forward versus backwards,” he said during the debate hosted by The Nevada Independent. By contrast, Lombardo said, the country is “going backwards” under Biden, citing inflation.
When pressed by moderator Jon Ralston, the CEO of the Nevada Independent, about whether he agreed with Trump’s false assertions that the 2020 election was stolen and “rigged,” Lombardo said he did not and that Trump’s rhetoric “bothers me.”
“It’s not a minor thing. I think there is some modicum of fraud in any election, but shouldn’t we have mechanisms in place to address even that modicum – and the confidence of the voter in the system?” Lombardo said, agreeing with Ralston that Trump has undermined the confidence of voters but noting that he supports additional safeguards against fraud. “You’re never going to agree with anybody 100% in everything they do,” he added in regards to the former President.
The two gubernatorial candidates disagreed about how to conduct elections in the future, with Sisolak arguing that every registered voter should continue to receive a ballot by mail – a policy Lombardo opposes, preferring they only be sent to voters who request them.
Amid a heated national debate over abortion, Lombardo tried to defuse Democratic attacks by saying that he now believes Nevada’s current law – which protects abortions up to 24 weeks – should remain in place. Sisolak called out his opponent for changing his position over the course of the year. In May, for example, Lombardo told a columnist he would support sending voters a referendum moving the 24-week limit to 13 weeks, with his campaign clarifying to The Nevada Independent that he would give voters the “ultimate decision.” Lombardo said Sunday that he had thought more about that potential change and no longer supports it.
“It’s codified law. There is nothing that the governor can do to change it. There’s nothing that I can do to change it,” Lombardo said. He confirmed that he does support parental notification laws with exceptions for rape and incest. “I don’t think any other additional legislation should go forward,” he said.
The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade has energized Democrats around the country and put some Republicans in a tough spot as they try to stake out positions that don’t alienate moderate voters.
Lombardo also said Sisolak has been skewing his record to suggest he would prosecute women who come into Nevada to get an abortion. “That’s another campaign commercial that is out there now,” Lombardo said, that can’t be “further from the truth.”
“I respect a woman’s right for their own bodies,” the sheriff said. “Am I going to nip away at legislation that changes that? You have no intention. It’s a vote of the people and if the people want to change it, I will support that.”
It wasn’t just Lombardo who was working to create some separation between him and his party on Sunday. Sisolak denounced billboards erected by a pro-Lombardo super PAC – Better Nevada PAC – that feature a photo of Biden and the governor standing next to one another with the words “the Democrat Dream Team for Nevada.” The signs are “a trick by my opponent,” Sisolak said, noting that he hadn’t invited Biden to campaign with him in the final stretch.
But he added that the President was welcome to visit the Silver State or any other state in the country.
“Joe Biden inherited a lot of problems from Donald Trump that he’s working through,” Sisolak said. “These inflation situations are not necessarily his fault. I mean, he doesn’t control the price of gasoline, no more than I control the price of chicken and ground beef at the stores. So I think that the President has done well with what he’s been presented with.”
Sisolak noted that Biden has “delivered billions of dollars to the state of Nevada to fix our roads, our bridges, our schools, our hospitals, create thousands of good paying jobs, and I’m thankful for that.”
But Lombardo argued that the trillions of dollars that the Biden administration has spent to try to stimulate the economy have been a major factor in driving the rise in inflation – a point of considerable debate among economists.
Sisolak shot back that the sheriff hadn’t been educated on “the intricacies of what causes inflation,” noting other factors like supply chain issues that resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic and the ripple effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Lombardo pledged not to raise taxes if elected and accused Sisolak of being overly restrictive with school and business closures during the pandemic, which he argues have slowed the state’s economic recovery. During the debate, he claimed Sisolak “just solely relied on what (Democratic California Gov.) Gavin Newsom advised him.”
Sisolak said his primary focus at the time “was to save lives, human lives,” adding, “I think we have saved lives as a result of the things we put in place.”