If Sheriff Joe Lombardo is a conservative, now would be an opportune time to show it.
Lombardo appears likely to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination. On paper, he’s a great candidate. He won twice in Clark County despite its Democratic lean. He showed strong leadership after the Oct. 1 tragedy. Murders dropped significantly in 2019. Instead of defunding the police, he thinks a larger police presence deters crime.
If he can raise significant money, which seems likely, he will be a formidable candidate. He may even clear the primary field of serious challengers.
But potential Republicans who take a closer look will find a candidate who’s more vulnerable in a primary than he first appears.
His biggest weakness is that he has done little to show Republican voters that he shares their conservative values. Part of that is the nature of his job. Law enforcement shouldn’t have a partisan bias.
But he has made some decisions that won’t sit well with most Republicans. In December 2018, Lombardo ordered his officers to stop informing ICE after they arrested illegal immigrants for low-level traffic bench warrants. In 2019, based on a ruling by a federal judge, Metro stopped participating entirely in a partnership with ICE that allowed ICE to identify and deport illegal aliens arrested by Metro.
Those actions would allow a potential opponent to claim plausibly that Lombardo turned Clark County into a sanctuary county.
Gun policy is another potential weak spot. In March, a Metro lobbyist testified as neutral on an anti-gun bill opposed by the NRA and the SHOT Show. Lombardo shouldn’t use Metro resources to advance his political career, but his personal lack of opposition is notable.
And Clark County has seen a spike in murders. Homicides went up 33 percent from 2019 to 2020. Compared with 2020, murders are up 71 percent this year through May 7. That is likely a reflection of national trends, but Lombardo is still the man at the top.
Rep. Mark Amodei would probably be the strongest challenger. He has talked about running for governor, but there are serious doubts about his commitment to raising money. Former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison doesn’t seem likely to run against Lombardo. North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee didn’t switch his party registration from Democrat to Republican until last month. CD4 remains Lee’s best race.
That leaves a tier of candidates who would be interesting if they could raise enough money. State Sen. Scott Hammond is a champion of school choice. He’s midterm, too. Former attorney general candidate Wes Duncan is a dynamic leader. Assemblyman Andy Matthews, who I once worked for, has a strong conservative record and raised around $450,000 last cycle.
Lombardo could do something to improve his chances, too. If Lombardo is a conservative — and Republicans should hope he is — he should speak out against high-profile liberal bills before the Legislature adjourns.