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Jim Hartman: Sisolak vulnerable in 2022, poll shows

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A little over a year before the 2022 midterm election, Nevada Democrats are worried that Governor Steve Sisolak is seriously vulnerable to a credible Republican challenger in his re-election bid.

A poll conducted by The Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent released October 3 sampled 600 likely voters that closely mirrors the state’s voter registration.

The results found that only 38% believe Sisolak is doing a good job as Governor, while 60% have a negative view of his job performance (including a 59% negative view on his response to the COVID pandemic.)

The survey reports that a majority of Nevada voters (52%) believe things in the state are on the wrong track. Sisolak’s image is “upside down” with voters. They give him only a 46% favorable against 48% unfavorable rating.

When matched against the two likely GOP frontrunners for governor, Sisolak was found to hold a very narrow lead over former U.S. Senator Dean Heller by 2 points (45.8 percent to 43.3% percent) and in a tie with Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo (44.9 percent to 44.4).

Among non-major party voters who now make up a plurality of registered voters in Nevada, Sisolak placed even with Heller (42.3 percent to 42.1 percent) but trailed behind Lombardo by 5 points (39.6 percent to 44.7 percent).

While Democrats have won the vast majority of statewide races in Nevada since 2016, the poll results support Nevada’s status as a “purple” swing state. Mellman, a highly respected Democratic pollster, forecasts a “very close, very competitive, very tough race” for Sisolak in 2022.

With nine months until Nevada’s June primary election, the Mellman Group survey also sampled 400 likely voters registered as Republicans. The list of candidates included Heller, Lombardo, Reno personal injury attorney and former boxer Joey Gilbert, and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee.

Heller led the field of Republicans with 31.3 percent of respondents supporting the longtime Nevada politician. Though Lombardo was second-highest among the candidates with 23.2 percent, the results were even when respondents knew both Heller and Lombardo. A larger group of respondents (27.2 percent) remain undecided.

Gilbert was the third most popular choice with 11 percent. Lee received support from 3.3 percent. The three other listed candidates — Dr. Fred Simon, businessman Guy Nohra and perennial candidate Eddie Hamilton — failed to reach 1 percent support.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, who weighed a race for governor, was not included in the poll.

Heller underperformed what would be expected of a former U.S. Senator and statewide elected official, winning only 31 percent of the vote in the poll and leading Lombardo by only eight points. And, the advantage he has currently is based on name ID and disappears among those that know both candidates.

Among Republican primary voters who know both candidates, Lombardo leads Heller by five points. Heller continues to suffer from his refusal to support former President Trump in 2016. And, half of Republican primary voters view Heller as a moderate or liberal.

“The reality is, Dean Heller does not have this primary race locked up by any stretch of the imagination. Lombardo has a real shot here,” Mellman told a Nevada Independent conference. “If [Heller] was running, expecting he would have it locked up, and a clear shot at the general election, he needs to revise those expectations dramatically.”

“Lombardo has the opportunity to go to the rural counties, go to Washoe County and get better known. If he has the money, if he has the campaign skills to get better known and better liked he has the opportunity to really change the dynamic in that part of the state,” Mellman said.

In Clark County, where voters elected him to the nonpartisan position of sheriff in 2014 and 2018, Lombardo led Heller in the poll by 6 points (32.9 percent to 26.9 percent).

Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa, Nevada. Email him at


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