Nevadans' decisions in the June 14 Republican and Democratic primaries for governor will set the stage for a heated race to the general election on Nov. 8, analysts predict.
Analysts say that incumbent Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, likely will glide past his lone primary challenger, even though voters' thoughts on the race haven't been well-tested in polls.
If he advances, Sisolak could be in for a tough reelection fight, especially if he faces Clark County's Republican sheriff, Joe Lombardo, some polls suggest.
There are 15 GOP candidates vying for the party's nomination to the general election.
If one succeeds in ousting Sisolak, that victory would break the Democrats' state government trifecta, which refers to when one political party controls the office of governor and both chambers of a state's legislature. Across the country, there are 23 Republican trifectas and 14 Democratic trifectas. Thirteen states have governments that aren't controlled by one party.
In the 2020 presidential election cycle, Nevada was considered one of 13 battleground states.
Ultimately, Nevadans handed six Electoral College votes to President Joe Biden, who carried the state over incumbent President Donald Trump by 2.4 percent of the vote.
Other polls have suggested that Gilbert leads Heller, but both trail Lombardo.
Heller and Gilbert took turns criticizing Lombardo and his record as sheriff over the area that includes the Las Vegas Strip gambling and entertainment mecca. Clark County, the nation's 13th largest county, is roughly the size of New Jersey, with more than 2.3 million residents and nearly 46 million visitors each year.
Lombardo's opponents insist that he has been too soft on crime and has turned the county into a sanctuary for immigrants who have entered the country illegally. They said he hasn't taken a strong enough stand to protect the unborn to be considered "pro-life" and accused him of being too similar to Sisolak and too friendly with him to be considered a conservative option.
"This is ridiculous that we have two people identical—Sisolak and Lombardo—when you can actually have a proven conservative, that has cut taxes, has reduced the size of government, who's pro-life," Heller fumed in his closing statement.
Throughout the hour-long debate, Lombardo countered that the accusations lobbed at him were nothing more than typical campaign attacks and said it was time for Republicans to come together to defeat Sisolak in the fall.
"Let's be honest with each other," he said in his closing remarks. "For all practical purposes, this primary is over. There's nothing more to argue about.
"I've weathered 12 months of attacks from Steve Sisolak and his PACs and from most of the individuals standing here next to me, and why? ... They're all bogus. They're not working."
Lombardo is leading in "all the polls," he said, and he has raised the most money "associated with a successful campaign." He touted endorsements from Trump and 16 of the state's 17 sheriffs.
"We need to go after Sisolak," Lombardo said. "He has ruined our economy. He has ruined our schools. He's ruined our safety. And I'm the only one that has the leadership and experience that Nevadans can trust."
Republicans say Sisolak has crippled the economy and hurt children by shutting businesses and schools for too long during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sisolak has insisted that he was making tough calls to keep people safe. He dropped the state's mask mandate in February.
Sisolak's campaign spokesman declined to comment to The Epoch Times.
Sisolak, who had a war chest of less than $9.6 million on April 15, is expected to have an easy primary victory over challenger Tom Collins. Collins is a colorful cowboy and consultant in the electrical industry who served in the Nevada State Assembly and, more recently, on the Clark County Commission. Collins had a little less than $6,900 in his campaign account on April 15.
Sisolak was elected in 2018 in a contest with former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is running for the U.S. Senate this year. Polls show that Laxalt in a tight race to win the GOP primary and, if he prevails, would go on to challenge incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).
In that first week of voting, 71,347 mailed ballots were received. Of those, 43.1 percent were from Democrats, and 36.7 percent were from Republicans.
All registered voters in Nevada receive a ballot in the mail unless they officially ask to opt-out. There are 36 gubernatorial races taking place across the country this election cycle.