Michael Lyle and Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
February 6, 2024
Though typically the idiom “second to none” is a compliment, for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, it means her third defeat in the Republican presidential nomination process. And a humiliating one.
With nearly half the statewide vote counted Tuesday night, Haley was trailing “none of these candidates” in the Nevada presidential preference primary. Haley had 33% of the vote, to 60% for “none,” and The Associated Press called the race for “none.”
Haley was the only active candidate on the Republican primary ballot – Donald Trump deliberately didn’t file and is instead participating in Thursday’s state-run caucus. But there had been a quasi-campaign on the part of Trump forces urging people to vote for “none of these candidates” in the primary. Gov. Joe Lombardo, who has endorsed Trump, has said he would vote for “none” in the primary and then caucus for Trump Thursday night.
Trump himself had not been willing to publicly back the “none” campaign, and in his recent Las Vegas rally told supporters not to “waste time” on the Republican primary. Introducing Trump at rallies in both Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada Republican Party chairman Michael McDonald similarly told the crowds to ignore the primary.
But Nevada Republican Committeewoman Sigal Chattah, an ardent Trump backer, told Mother Jones “We’re telling people to vote ‘none of the above,’” in the hope of landing another blow to Haley’s continued presence in the Republican race.
Haley initially was joined on the primary ballot by former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, though both candidates suspended their campaigns in the fall of 2023.
Nevada’s confusing condition
Featuring both Tuesday’s primary and Thursday’s caucus, Nevada’s third spot on the Republican nominating calendar has led to confusion – and that was not an accident.
The Nevada Legislature attempted to move the state away from party-run caucuses by passing a bill in 2021 mandating state-run presidential primaries be held. Tuesday’s was Nevada’s first primary under the new law.
The Nevada Republican Party led by McDonald, a recently indicted fake elector who has been accused of forging documents in an effort to overthrow the 2020 presidential election results, objected to the state primary, and chose to run a caucus.
State law allows parties to determine how delegates will be awarded in the presidential nominating process, and the Nevada Republican Party declared that only those competing in the caucus could win any of Nevada’s 26 delegates to the Republican National Convention this summer.
Leading up to the election, the secretary of state’s office said “the top issue we get called about” was Trump not appearing on the primary ballot.
Bethany Drysdale, a spokeswoman for Washoe County, said voters on Tuesday were still confused about Trump’s name not being featured, but said the county was referring people to the Republican Party “to learn more about the caucus.”
“There has been some additional confusion from voters who are nonpartisan and did not realize they couldn’t vote in this election,” she said. There hadn’t been any reports of election workers getting harassed, she added.
But confusion – and anger – could be found at the polls.
Nahabedian, a 58 year old voter who did not provide his last name, walked out of the Desert Breeze Community Center in Las Vegas without casting a vote after seeing that Trump was not on his ballot.
“I came out to vote for the primary thinking that the primary was going to include the Republican Party nominees. And the one Republican Party nominee that’s excluded from the state of Nevada is Donald Trump,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever been denied the right to vote.”
Haley skipped the state
Trump has won the first two states of the 2024 nominating process: the Iowa Caucus Jan. 15 and the New Hampshire primary Jan. 23.
Trump received 51% of the vote in Iowa. Haley came in a distant third place at 19%, narrowly trailing Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s 21%. DeSantis dropped out of the campaign days later prior to the New Hampshire primary.
Haley then received 43% of the vote in New Hampshire while Trump won the state with 54%.
Though Nevada is the third state on the Republican presidential nomination calendar, Haley has skipped efforts to compete and has turned her attention to her home state of South Carolina, for decades considered a decisive contest in Republican presidential nomination fights.
“In terms of Nevada, we have not spent a dime nor an ounce of energy on Nevada,” said Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankney, The Hill reported on Monday.
It wasn’t the first time Haley’s campaign referred to the caucus as “rigged.”
When asked why after finishing second in the New Hamphsire primary, Haley responded, “Talk to the people in Nevada: They will tell you the caucuses have been sealed up, bought and paid for a long time. That’s the Trump train rolling through that. But we’re going to focus on the states that are fair.”
Haley was scheduled to campaign in California Wednesday, one of the delegate-rich Super Tuesday states holding primaries March 4.
A low turnout affair
The lack of a Trump-Haley head-to-head matchup, the inevitability of Biden’s nomination, and a widely held lack of enthusiasm for a Biden-Trump rematch all combined for slow voting primary voting day in the state.
According to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, there are 560,000 registered active Republican voters in Nevada. As of Saturday morning, after the week of early voting, less than 58,000 of them had voted. The Democrats performed a little better. Out of 596,000 registered voters, about 94,000 voted during early voting week. In both parties, the early voting week tallies were predominantly people who voted by mail.
Drysdale, the Washoe County election officials, said only 1,000 people had shown up in person ot vote in the county by noon.
Outside the Desert Breeze Community Center in Las Vegas, a slow trickle of voters braved the rain and cold to vote in the primary.
The lack of voter enthusiasm revealed in the week leading up to the primary continued throughout the day Tuesday. Empty voting booths lined the community center with none of the long lines characteristic of the popular voting location. Poll workers, with no one to direct, waited for in-person voters to arrive.
Steady rain Tuesday didn’t help the turnout.
The scene lacked the fervor and enthusiasm typical of prior presidential preference elections in Nevada, including four years ago when Biden came in second place in the Democratic caucus, behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Voters who spoke to the Nevada Current echoed that lack of enthusiasm.
Becky Ulrey, 74, said she came out to vote Tuesday because she always votes and hasn’t missed an election in decades.
“I decided to stick to my regular routine,” Ulrey said.
The registered Democrat explained that she voted for Biden “because there was no one else on the ballot that I was really excited about.”
“I think he is our best bet,” she said.
David Launay, a 64 year old registered Republican, was equally disillusioned. He voted “none of these candidates.” While he plans to participate in the Republican run caucus Thursday to make his vote count, he hopes Republican front runner Donald Trump gets serious competition.
“I’m not enthused at all as far as some of the things Trump’s done,” Launay said. “I’m actually looking at Robert Kennedy now.”
“If (Trump) does win the caucuses, then I will probably end up voting for him. Yet-to-be-determined right now. This is the first year that I’ve been on the fence,” Launay continued.
April Corbin Girnus and Hugh Jackson contributed to this story.
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