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Lombardo calls NV GOP caucus plan ‘detrimental’ and ‘unacceptable’

Though the state party chair has said a caucus is the “purest” way to reach voters, Lombardo called dueling contests a continuation of chaos for Republicans.
Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Election 2024

Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Republican, criticized rules for the Nevada Republican Party’s Feb. 8 presidential caucus barring candidates from participating both in the caucus and in a state-run presidential primary two days earlier, saying it is “unacceptable for the voters.” 

Speaking during a Nevada Newsmakers interview broadcast Tuesday, the Republican governor said the dueling contests were “detrimental to the candidates,” adding that the situation continues “the chaos that is occurring within the Republican Party,” referring to the selection of a U.S. House speaker.

Asked whether the caucus and primary would cause confusion among Republican voters, he said, “I believe it will.” 

“And I think it will disenfranchise a number of voters,” he added.

A 2021 state law transitioned the state from its traditional party-run caucus system and instead requires the state to hold a statewide presidential preference primary election for each major party if at least two candidates file to run in the party’s primary. 

But the Nevada GOP has instead opted to hold a caucus two days after the Feb. 6 primary election in Nevada. The party will use the results of the caucus to allocate the state’s presidential delegates, and has adopted rules barring candidates running in the primary from participating in the caucus. 

Nevada is an early nominating state for both major parties — Democrats have Nevada as the second contest after South Carolina, and the state is third in the nominating order for Republicans after Iowa and New Hampshire.

State party chair Michael McDonald and the Nevada GOP have pitched the caucus as a way of implementing the “common-sense election reforms supported by” Lombardo, including requiring voter ID.

“The caucus is probably the purest form of anybody who wants to get delegates — you have to put in the time in the state,” McDonald said when he announced the caucus decision. “I can push back and say, ‘Look, put your team together and come out to Nevada and start knocking some doors.'”

The rules have divided presidential contenders. Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are among the major candidates running in the caucus, while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) have opted to run in the primary, skipping the opportunity to win delegates in the caucus for the chance to boost their national profile in a Trump-free election.

As the plans for both contests have sparked some confusion among GOP voters, Lombardo said putting the “understanding of the process” onto voters is “unacceptable.”

In an interview with The Nevada Independent Tuesday, McDonald characterized Lombardo’s comments as a “matter of disagreement” and said his job “is to make sure we carry out the governor’s policies.” He pointed to measures such as voter ID proposed by Lombardo through SB405, his election bill rejected by Democratic lawmakers.

He added that presidential candidates running in the caucus have not expressed any issues with the format of the contest, and he said those running in the primary (Haley and Scott) are “not serious candidates,” pointing to their single-digit polling numbers.

Lombardo’s criticism of his own party also extended to congressional Republicans, who spent weeks trying to find a speaker to lead the House of Representatives.

“People start to get attitudes … to say, ‘Well, they can't manage themselves, why would I support them when they run as part of that party?’” he said. “So it's unfortunate. I've had numerous conversations, both with the state party and other individuals involved, and it's falling on deaf ears.”

Lombardo said he doesn’t support ranked-choice voting — a proposal to allow Nevada voters to rank their top five choices rather than select a single candidate. Ballot Question 3 would implement ranked-choice voting in Nevada if passed again in 2024, and would change Nevada’s primary elections from closed to party members to open to all voters.

Lombardo said he worried the process would allow a “fringe candidate” to win an election over more moderate candidates.

“There's a lot of registered independents in the state of Nevada now, and they are eclipsing the numbers on the Democratic side and the Republican side,” he said. “We want their voice heard in the primary, but this proverbial jungle primary doesn't solve anything.”


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