Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak stands on the sidelines at Mackay Stadium during the UNLV-Nevada football game in Reno on Oct. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes, file)
The long list of Republican gubernatorial candidates immersed in the bruising primary battle underway in Nevada began 2022 with millions of dollars less in campaign cash than incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Though Republicans expect to make gains in the midterm elections in swing states like Nevada, Sisolak's cash advantage and the funds that those hoping to unseat him will likely have to expend to fight each other ahead of the June primary give the first-term Democrat a leg up as the midterm election campaign heats up in Nevada.
Sisolak, who won in 2018 by 4.1 percentage points, raised $4.5 million in campaign contributions throughout 2021 and ended the year with $8.3 million in cash on hand.
He begins 2022 with more in his campaign coffers than he had at the start of 2018 and more than all his Republican challengers combined. Though governors races in battlegrounds like Nevada will likely draw national attention, Sisolak's haul is far less than what governors in more populous states raised in 2021, including New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Sam Barrett, Sisolak's campaign manager, said the Nevada record contributions reflected the high stakes of the race and the governor's policies to spur economic recovery, such as job fairs and vaccines.
"It's no surprise our campaign is seeing unprecedented support from every corner of our state and across the country," Barrett said in a statement.
Though Republicans have criticized his pandemic response and public health restrictions placed on businesses, many large hotel-casinos appear to remain supportive of Sisolak; he received $10,000 apiece from Park MGM, Caesars Palace, the Luxor, Stratosphere Las Vegas and Planet Hollywood. He also received a combined $90,000 from members of the Fertitta family, which owns Stations Casinos and is known for their support of Republican candidates.
Among his challengers, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo outraised the rest of the primary field, amassing $3.1 million in contributions and ending the year with $2.7 million cash on hand. His campaign said his fundraising "cements his status as the frontrunner in the Republican gubernatorial race" and hailed the total as historic before Sisolak filed his campaign finance report. Like Sisolak, casinos such as the Luxor, MGM Grand, Stratosphere Las Vegas, and Mirage Casino Hotel also contributed to Lombardo.
Lombardo drew national spotlight as Las Vegas' top law enforcement officer after the October 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, the deadliest in modern U.S. history. He spent nearly $1 million in 2021, including on media buys, consultants and campaign staff.
Though he spent nearly three times the amount that former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller's campaign spent in 2021, Lombardo begins 2022 with a substantial cash on hand advantage. Heller reported raising roughly $650,000, ending the year with $265,000 cash on hand.
Venture capitalist Guy Nohra and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee both reported lending or contributing large sums to their campaigns. Nohra, a Lebanese-American multi-millionaire who made his fortune in the life sciences, reported raising $1.3 million, 94% of which he contributed personally. Lee reported raising $1.6 million, which included a $1 million from his wife. Like Lombardo, he nearly spent $1 million, including on media buys, consultants and strategists.
Reno attorney Joey Gilbert reported $326,000 in campaign contributions and began the year with $65,000 cash on hand. Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore raised nearly $600,000 and began 2022 with $190,000 cash on hand.
Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.