(AP) – Nevada’s Republican governor showed his strongest support Wednesday for Donald Trump in his legal battles since the former president was first indicted for falsifying business records nearly a year ago.

At the same time, Joe Lombardo distanced himself from Nevada’s six Republican so-called fake electors in a window into how he will weigh in on hot-button issues affecting his party leading up to the 2024 election.

Lombardo’s comments came in a wide-ranging discussion with Jon Ralston, CEO and editor of The Nevada Independent, which hosts the speaker series “IndyTalks.” Over 90 minutes, Lombardo defended his vetoes of gun-control measures, gave himself a B+ grade for his first 14 months in office and lamented that he is still figuring out how to bring accountability to a historic $2.6 billion investment in public education.

The conversation in front of 300 people hinted at how Lombardo will wield his power within the GOP and how the moderate governor in a swing state known for split-ticket outcomes will navigate a polarizing election season.

Lombardo weighed in on what is set to be one of the tightest U.S. Senate races this cycle, endorsing retired Army Capt. Sam Brown, the front-runner in a crowded Republican primary to unseat incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen. He also painted a dreary picture if Democrats gain a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers of Nevada’s Legislature.

Lombardo dismissed a question when asked to rate the enthusiasm of his endorsement of Trump on a scale of 1 to 10. He gestured to Ralston, then looked blankly at the crowd, prompting laughs before saying “next question.”

Elizabeth Ray, a spokesperson for Lombardo, later said the governor has consistently supported Trump and is looking forward to helping him win Nevada.

Here’s a look at key moments Wednesday:

Donald Trump

Lombardo told Ralston in September that he was concerned about Trump’s legal troubles, before endorsing Trump in January.

On Wednesday, Lombardo offered his clearest backing of Trump, who is navigating multiple criminal indictments. Lombardo pointed to additional information associated with the indictments that made him feel better about Trump, but he didn’t elaborate. When pressed about whether Trump will be proven innocent or guilty, Lombardo pivoted to the election.

“Let’s forget all that. Let’s talk about Biden-Trump,” he said. “I feel the world was safer under Trump. I feel the economic outlook, especially for Nevadans … we were better off.”

Trump endorsed Lombardo during the former sheriff’s 2022 run for governor, which helped him emerge from a crowded GOP field to win the primary. Lombardo campaigned with Trump but briefly distanced himself from the former president during a debate in Nevada’s general election, then called Trump “the greatest president” during a rally the following week.

Lombardo has maintained support of Trump while pushing back on his false claims of a stolen 2020 election. But Wednesday appeared to be Lombardo’s strongest showing of support for the former president since Trump’s indictments.

“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” Lombardo said. “And I’m looking forward to his day in court.”

Distance from Nevada, Washoe County GOPs

The six “fake electors” face felony charges for their roles in submitting certificates to Congress that falsely declared Trump won Nevada in the 2020 presidential election.

Lombardo said he has experienced “personal angst” over the conduct of the electors, distancing himself from the Nevada Republican Party that is further to the right. Three of the six electors from Nevada are in leadership roles in the state party.

“I don’t understand the need to even have it done,” Lombardo said. “But that’s the path they chose to go down. And we’ll see how the chips fall.”

Lombardo vetoed a bill last year that would have established felony charges specifically for fake electors. He said those actions should come with “strict punishments,” but the range outlined in the bill of four to 10 years in prison was too harsh.

The fake electors include Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald, who considers Lombardo a friend and has supported him and his policies, as well as Clark County GOP chair Jesse Law, who Lombardo had endorsed for another term.

Still, Lombardo’s views and those of the state GOP haven’t always aligned, including when Nevada GOP national committeewoman Sigal Chattah called Lombardo a “laughingstock across the nation” on X, formerly Twitter, after he signed two bills related to transgender rights.

Lombardo also said he was “outraged” with the Washoe County GOP — Nevada’s lone swing county — for excommunicating a Republican county commissioner he had appointed. The Washoe County GOP said that Clara Andriola’s bipartisan votes “intentionally and willfully failed to uphold the Republicans and the Republican brand,” according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“I’ve had several conversations with the players in the space,” Lombardo said. “And I’ve been very, very, very vocal in my absolute support for Clara.”

Veto power threatened

Lombardo took aim at his Democratic opponents while defending his 75 vetoes last year, which were the highest in a single legislative session in state history.

He said he agreed with a political action committee supporting him that claims that there is a “culture of corruption” among Democrats in the legislature, citing what he called a lack of transparency in the legislative branch.

The phrase originally stems from conflicts of interest between part-time legislators and non-profits that received funding through a bill the Legislature approved and Lombardo signed. It was Lombardo’s first embrace of the attack as Democrats try to thwart his veto power ahead of next year’s legislative session.

In a statement, Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Tai Sims called Lombardo corrupt, citing the governor’s vetoes of bills that Sims said would lower prescription drug and housing costs, as well as his disputes with the Nevada Commission on Ethics, including a lawsuit challenging its oversight authority.

Democrats held a supermajority in the state Assembly and were one seat away from a supermajority in the state Senate last year. If they gain a supermajority in both chambers this election cycle, they can override his veto power on party-line votes in 2025.

Nevada was one of 10 states last year where the executive and legislative branches were led by different political parties — the lowest number since 1952, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“I wouldn’t want a supermajority out of both houses on the Republican side, right?” Lombardo said. “It just doesn’t work. We’ve got to have that little push and pull.”


Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Follow Stern on X, formerly Twitter: @gabestern326.


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