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VICTOR JOECKS: How Trump’s endorsement of Lombardo is different from his previous picks

Sheriff Joe Lombardo may be the least likely candidate ever to receive an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, Trump gave Lombardo his “complete and total endorsement” to be Nevada’s next governor. Don’t think it’s a coincidence that Trump released that statement while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Las Vegas campaigning for Adam Laxalt. A 2024 GOP presidential primary between Trump and DeSantis is a real possibility.

Lombardo doesn’t fit the mold of a typical Trump endorsee. For one, Lombardo wasn’t a vocal supporter of Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. The sheriff has told me that he voted for Trump. But his campaign said it wasn’t aware of any official campaign events with Lombardo and Trump. In contrast, Laxalt, whom Trump previously endorsed, co-chaired Trump’s re-election effort in Nevada.

After he announced his gubernatorial bid, Lombardo declined to say he would seek Trump’s endorsement. He reframed the question to say, “If I receive it, I’ll embrace it.”

That’s a noticeably more low-key approach about Trump than you’ve seen from Republican candidates in places such as Ohio and Missouri.

It would actually be an encouraging sign if Trump were starting to pick candidates more strategically. Lombardo has long been the favorite to win the primary, even if North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee is doing better than expected. In Nevada, Trump has done well selecting candidates. Among those trying to flip a seat, Laxalt looks like the best Republican Senate candidate in the country.

But if Trump were willing to change his approach, he’d probably still be president. The situation leaves one wondering about the real story. The best explanation probably involves a high-powered donor or group of donors who have Trump’s ear. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Steve Wynn, who helped build the Strip and was previously RNC finance chair, is often in Palm Beach, Florida. That’s where Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort is located. Hmmm.

Whatever the backstory, it won’t change the endorsement’s impact, which should be significant. Lombardo hasn’t resonated with the Republican base despite massive ad spending. There are concerns about his stances on guns, pro-life issues and deporting illegal immigrants who’ve been arrested.

Expect Trump’s endorsement to function like a de facto indulgence. The ad copy writes itself: Of course, you can trust Lombardo on immigration; Trump says he will “oppose sanctuary cities.” On that particular issue, Lombardo’s record is more nuanced — and better — than his Republican opponents want you to think.

Even with the Trump endorsement, Lombardo could be vulnerable if the other candidates consolidated behind a non-Lombardo candidate. Lee looks like the strongest option.

But that’s not likely to happen. Being governor is the last checkbox in Dean Heller’s long political career. He has nothing to lose. Joey Gilbert has a passionate fan base. It would take a lot of self-restraint and humility to walk away now. Guy Nohra’s late $2 million in ad reservations makes him a Glenn Youngkin-type dark horse. Currently, he doesn’t have many supporters to offer.

Lombardo may not get 50 percent of the vote, but with Trump’s endorsement, he’s very likely to win the Republican gubernatorial nod.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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