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In Nevada primary without Trump, Haley loses to ‘none of these candidates’

Haley’s stunning loss to a ballot choice for no candidate reflects Trump’s strength among Nevada Republicans.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Election 2024

In a Republican primary that did not feature former President Donald Trump, “none of these candidates” — a protest choice unique to Nevada — is projected to receive more votes than former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. The result shows a significant sign of weakness for the lone major GOP challenger to Trump, who is set to sweep the Nevada GOP caucus Thursday. 

“None of these candidates” received more than 60 percent of the vote, while Haley received roughly 33 percent, in early returns released Tuesday evening. Other well-known candidates who appeared on the primary ballot but have dropped out of the race — former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) — received 4.2 percent and 1.3 percent of the vote, respectively, while a slew of other lesser-known candidates received about 1 percent combined.

Haley’s margin of defeat was especially high in populous Clark County, home to Las Vegas, where out of more than 28,000 votes reported in the first returns, she received 30.9 percent of the vote — less than half as much as the “none of these candidates” option at 62.5 percent.

Under state law, if “none of these candidates” receives the most votes in an election, the next highest vote-getter is considered the winner. Voters have now chosen the “none of these candidates” six times in state history, most recently in the state’s 2014 Democratic primary for governor.

But even if Haley had won the primary, the victory would have been symbolic, as the state GOP has opted to award delegates to the party’s national convention based on the results of Thursday’s caucus. There, Trump faces just one long-shot candidate, Texas pastor and businessman Ryan Binkley, and is expected to cruise to victory.

The loss represents an embarrassing result for Haley, who is struggling to keep her campaign alive as the last threat to Trump in the race for the Republican nomination.

In a statement, the Haley campaign said it was “full steam ahead in South Carolina and beyond,” according to NBC News.

“Even Donald Trump knows that when you play penny slots the house wins,” the statement said. “We didn’t bother to play a game rigged for Trump.” 

The split between the two contests comes after the Nevada GOP adopted rules prohibiting candidates who filed for the primary from running in the caucus.

In Clark County, 65-year-old Ricardo Terrazas cast his ballot for none of the candidates. He said he will caucus for Trump on Thursday but decided to participate in Tuesday’s primary to “vote against the process.” He called the primary — which is new in Nevada and came after former Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill requiring one in 2021 — “a waste of time and money.”

Washoe County voter Russ Bream, 57, echoed that sentiment, saying he didn’t feel the candidates on the primary ballot “were acceptable.” Rudy Roybal, 43, was disappointed to learn that former President Donald Trump was not on Tuesday's ballot and said he decided not to vote.

Haley ignored Nevada this election cycle, making no official visits, and instead focused on other early nominating contests. In the Iowa caucuses, she placed third behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and she placed second in New Hampshire (DeSantis dropped out after Iowa). She has since turned her attention to the Feb. 24 primary in South Carolina, where she was governor from 2011 to 2017.

Earlier this week, Haley’s campaign manager said the campaign has “not spent a dime nor an ounce of energy on Nevada,” and she accused the Nevada GOP of rigging the caucus for Trump.

Haley told reporters in New Hampshire that her campaign was only “going to focus on the states that are fair.”

“Talk to the people in Nevada: They will tell you the caucuses have been sealed up, bought and paid for a long time,” she said. ”That’s the Trump train rolling through that.”

Read more: Biden wins Nevada’s Democratic presidential primary in landslide vote

The primary-caucus split

This year’s presidential primary was Nevada’s first since 1996. It followed a bill passed with bipartisan support that Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed in 2021 requiring both major political parties to hold primary elections, while also giving them the discretion to award delegates however they’d like.

The state GOP — led by Chair Michael McDonald, who is one of the six Nevadans facing felony charges over their efforts to subvert the 2020 election as so-called “fake electors” for Trump — decided to award the state’s delegates based on the results of a party-run caucus, which will take place Thursday. The party also charged candidates $55,000 to get on the caucus ballot.

Critics of the rules argued that the system was designed to favor Trump, amid lower turnout, limits on the participation of super PACs and the caucus candidate fee. All Nevada voters registered with a major party received ballots in the mail for Tuesday’s primary, but the caucus will be held in person, except for absentee ballots available for “​​active duty military members and their dependents,” according to the party.

McDonald, meanwhile, has said that the party favored the caucus because of state Democrats’ opposition to election policies supported by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, including requiring ID to vote, a rule in place for the caucus. And despite previously saying he would remain neutral during the primary, McDonald has since urged Republican voters to caucus for Trump.

The dueling elections have also caused frustration and confusion among Republicans, including leading state officials and voters — many of whom remained confused Tuesday as to why Trump was not on the primary ballot. Lombardo last year blasted the election rules, specifically the one forbidding participation in both contests.

“I think that’s unacceptable for the voters and the understanding of how things should be done,” Lombardo said during an interview on Nevada Newsmakers.

Despite this, Lombardo told The Nevada Independent last month that he would caucus for Trump and select “none of these candidates” on the primary ballot.

Updated at 9:26 p.m. on 2/6/24 to include more information about the results. Reporters Tabitha Mueller and Jannelle Calderon contributed to this report.


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