LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Republican Joe Lombardo, a career police officer-turned-elected sheriff in Las Vegas who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has been elected governor in Nevada.
"I've dedicated my life to protecting and serving our community, and now, I'm honored to have the opportunity to protect and serve our entire state as your next governor," Lombardo said in a statement issued shortly after Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak conceded the race.
"It appears we will fall a percentage point or so short of winning," Sisolak said in comments following a batch of vote results reported in Clark County. "That is why I reached out to the sheriff to wish him success."
Both Sisolak and Lombardo faced the national spotlight five years ago, following the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. At least 58 people died and hundreds were injured by a gunman shooting assault-style rifles from windows of a high-rise hotel into an outdoor concert crowd in Las Vegas.
At the time, Sisolak was chairman of the powerful Clark County Commission, the elected body with jurisdiction over the Las Vegas Strip. Lombardo was the nonpartisan elected Clark County sheriff and head of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the largest police agency in Nevada.
Sisolak went on to become Nevada's 30th governor. Lombardo will be the 31st -- making Sisolak a one-term Democrat amid two decades of Republicans. But Lombardo will contend with a Democratic-controlled state Legislature.
The governor's race was close and ballot counting in Nevada stretched through several days partly because a broad mail voting law passed by the state Legislature in 2020 requires counties to accept ballots postmarked by Election Day if they arrive up to four days later.
Lombardo, 60, started as a police officer in Las Vegas in 1988 and served two terms as Clark County sheriff.
Trump's endorsement helped him emerge from a crowded GOP field to win the June party primary. He weathered campaign attacks about his tenure as sheriff by acknowledging an increase in crime during the last two years but blaming funding limits and mandates from the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
"Our victory is a victory for all Nevadans who want our state to get back on track," Lombardo said Friday, in echoes of campaign ads. He called his win a victory for small business owners, parents, students and law enforcers.
Sisolak acknowledged in his statement the criticism he received for closing businesses, schools and casinos in March 2020 during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also pointed to "the stresses and strains of global inflation."
"We made the tough decisions during COVID that helped save an estimated 30,000 Nevada lives," the statement said, "even if those decisions sometimes had tough political ramifications."
Lombardo, whose campaign photos occasionally showed him in police uniform, distanced himself from Trump at times during the campaign. He never offered an endorsement of unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was marred by fraud.
Lombardo said during his only campaign debate with Sisolak that any voting irregularities two years ago were not enough to change the outcome of the election.
Lombardo's campaign and political committees supporting him received millions of dollars in support from wealthy Las Vegas-based hotel magnate and Las Vegas-area aerospace company owner Robert Bigelow.
At a campaign forum, Lombardo derided a state public health insurance option that the Legislature passed and Sisolak signed.
Lombardo said he looks at abortion through a "pro-life lens." But he also said he would fight against a national abortion ban if Congress passed one and acknowledged that state law approved by Nevada voters in 1990 allows abortions up to 24 weeks into pregnancy.
Lombardo on Friday promised a victory speech Monday at the Las Vegas high school he attended and said he and his wife, Donna, "can't wait to get to work for our state in Carson City."