There are now another million reasons why John Lee has a chance to win the Republican gubernatorial primary.
The biggest surprise of this race has been the North Las Vegas mayor’s ability to self-fund. His recent campaign finance report shows Lee gave his campaign $500,000 last quarter. That’s on top of a $1 million contribution last November. But that’s not all.
“John’s invested another $1 million in the race as Republicans support him as the conservative alternative to Joe Lombardo,” Chris Grant, Lee’s general consultant, told me Tuesday.
Lee casts himself as the conservative alternative to Sheriff Lombardo, who remains the frontrunner and odds-on favorite. Lombardo is sitting on a war chest of nearly $3 million. Public polling is scarce. But based on talks with political insiders, I believe Lombardo has around a 10-point lead. But I also think he’s struggling to break away from the field.
Lee’s spending seems to have vaulted him into second place. He’s running TV ads, boosting his name ID and criticizing Lombardo. In one ad, Lee hits Lombardo on sanctuary cities, guns and being on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s transition team. It’s a hard-hitting attack.
In response, the Lombardo campaign tried to smear Lee by claiming the ad contained “racist themes.” The supposed offense was using a picture of MS-13 gang members when talking about sanctuary cities. Huh?
Falsely accusing someone of racism isn’t likely to be successful in a Republican primary. If anything, Lombardo’s campaign is unwisely making him sound like a RINO. Many Republican voters understand the truth in the old quip: A racist is a Republican winning an argument.
It’s also shortsighted. Lombardo supports election integrity measures, such as voter ID. Just months ago, President Joe Biden compared Georgia’s election reform bill to “Jim Crow.” If Lombardo wins the primary, he should expect to unjustly be called a racist.
Lombardo would be better off calling out Lee for making a false claim. Lee’s ad says he will “reinstate Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.” Lee can’t do that. No governor can, because it’s a federal issue.
Lombardo doesn’t have the most conservative record, but he can still appeal to conservatives. He could commit to raising the funds needed to put a school choice constitutional amendment on the ballot if this year’s effort is unsuccessful. He could promise not to sign any major bill until the Legislature passes a bill limiting a governor’s emergency powers.
The rhetorical fight is likely to heat up. Lee was a Democrat for decades. That’s a real vulnerability — although Lee’s record on the issues conservatives care most about is quite good.
A flood of negative ads could create an opening for a third candidate. Former senator Dean Heller, however, appears to be fading. Lawyer Joey Gilbert has a passionate base of supporters, but he’s almost out of funds.
If a dark horse candidate emerges, my money is on businessman Guy Nohra. He’s still fairly unknown, but that’s about to change. He just reserved $2 million in TV and digital ads. He should be selling himself as Nevada’s Glenn Youngkin.
Lombardo is leading, but Lee’s surge has turned this into one of Nevada’s most interesting primaries.