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The approval rating of first-term Gov. Joe Lombardo did not quite reach 50 percent in a Nevada Newsmakers-sponsored poll, but his approval percentage far outpaced his disapproval numbers.
Lombardo, the former Clark County sheriff, was elected in November and if his 2026 re-election was held today, he would clearly defeat his projected Democratic opponent, Attorney General Aaron Ford, according to a poll of 412 Nevada voters done by Vote TXT during the week of May 15.
Some experts said Lombardo's positive poll numbers show he's still on a honeymoon with Nevada voters – although the final weeks of the current Legislature could change that.
"That honeymoon status could be damaged in the next few weeks if we see a ton of vetoes," said Fred Lokken, head of the political science department at Truckee Meadows Community College. "Or, a special session or two could cast him in a negative light.”
It also helps Lombardo that he succeeded a one-term governor done in by an economic and educational crisis brought on by the COVID pandemic, said Lokken, a former Republican now registered to vote as a non-partisan.
"Being on the other side of an unpopular governor is not a bad place to be," Lokken said. "The reality of 'Are you happy he is not Steve Sisolak?' is inherent in the question."
Almost 18 percent of responders to the poll said they strongly approved of Lombardo while 31 percent say they approved, adding up to a 47.83 approval percentage.
Only 22.62 said they disapproved and/or strongly disapproved.
However, almost one-third – 30.1 percent – said they were unsure about Lombardo.
The poll was before Lombardo vetoed three gun-safety bills that had passed the Legislature on party-line votes. The poll has 4.83 percent margin of error.
"We know that there's a fight coming up at the end of the session, as we know there always is," said Chuck Muth, a conservative political consultant from Las Vegas. "And I think a lot of those 30 percent (undecideds) will probably move one way or the other, depending on how the session ends."
More than 250 respondents gave a one-or-three word description of Lombardo. Their answers ranged from "Nevada proud, "leader," "stable" and "great for the people," to "NRA gun nut," "unfit," "arrogant," and "Route 91 coverup."
So far, Lombardo has not done a lot to bring attention to himself, Lokken said about the high percentage of respondents who were "unsure" about the governor.
"I don't mean to be disrespectful but there hasn't been a whole lot of Lombardo since he took office," Lokken said. "I've heard a lot more about (Chief of Staff Ben) Kieckhefer than I've heard about Lombardo."
Attorney General Aaron Ford's "unsure" percentage was higher than Lombardo's, as 43.56 percent of respondents say they were unsure about Ford, Nevada's two-term AG.
Eighteen percent of respondents approved of Ford and 12.88 strongly approved. His total approval percentage, 31.51 was more than five points ahead of his total disapproval rating of 24.93.
"From Ford's point of view, he is in his second term as attorney general, he's got a track record and served in the Legislature (as Senate Democratic caucus leader)," Lokken said. "So that would be a concerning bit of data about him – that the undecideds about him are so large."
Those "unsure" numbers may give Democratic Party leaders pause about Ford as the party's gubernatorial candidate in 2026, Lokken said.
"Those undecideds suggests that the Democratic Party ... maybe they should be looking at whether or not he should be the standard bearer (in 2026). Is he the right one to be running for governor?" Lokken said.
Ford's "unsure" numbers are not so alarming, Muth said.
"Those unsure (numbers) don't surprise me at all," Muth, who has run many conservative campaigns of legislative candidates.
"If there comes a point where it looks like Aaron Ford is going to run against Lombardo for governor, then I think you will see more people come off the fence and have a strong opinion, one way or the other, and start considering him as a gubernatorial candidate rather than a sitting attorney general," Muth said.
When respondents were asked to give a one-word description of Ford, the remarks ranged from "integrity," "competent," "trustworthy," and "honest" to "terrible for the people," "nothing good," "Soros puppet" and "a bum."
Lombardo vs. Ford
If Lombardo and Ford squared off today in a gubernatorial election, more than half of the respondents (50.68) would pick Lombardo while 29.70 would pick Ford.
Since the 2026 election is far beyond the horizon, the numbers may be pure speculation, Lokken said.
"A lot of stuff can happen between now and then so we're just going to speculate," Lokken said.
"But it suggests that Lombardo is off to a good start, and it suggests that Aaron Ford is going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party," Lokken said. "But Ford has a lot of work to do, with name recognition, candidate understanding and possibly even credibility issues that are putting him in a rather weak position, standing nose-to-nose with Lombardo.
"That can all be fixed because we're talking about 2026, but they've got a lot of work yet," Lokken said.
"But it doesn't surprise me that Lombardo is that much further ahead of him (Ford) because he enjoys a position of higher name ID and the fact that he is in the governor's seat as an incumbent right now," Lokken said.
Lombardo has proposed increasing the state's rainy-day fund to more than $1.5 billion and it is a plan that 45.54 percent of respondents approve. Forty-three percent want state lawmakers to increase teachers' pay while 40.7 percent want the state to better fund safety and law enforcement programs.
"We always hear it, nationally, that we just don't pay our teachers enough," Lokken said. "One of the fixes is keeping good teachers instead of having a revolving door. In Clark County, we have seen headline after headline about teachers' shortages, how it's hard for teachers to afford the cost of living, and that they get better offers in other states."