Nevada voters are heading to the polls Tuesday for their state’s first primary in nearly three decades, offering President Biden another chance to pick up delegates after his Saturday win in South Carolina, while an unusual nonbinding Republican contest does not feature GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
Biden faces only one long-shot challenger, with Nikki Haley the only Republican candidate in the primary. The former U.N. ambassador and Trump are not competing against each other this week after choosing to participate in different Silver State contests. The former president, the clear leader for his party’s nomination after decisive wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, is the sole participant in Nevada’s GOP caucuses later this week, which — unlike Tuesday’s primary — will count in the race for delegates to the national convention.
For years, Nevada voters have selected their presidential nominees by attending the caucuses held by their respective parties. But after the 2020 elections, Democratic lawmakers pushed to hold a statewide primary and forgo the caucuses, which were often low-turnout affairs dominated by party activists. They passed a 2021 law guaranteeing that every state voter would receive a primary ballot in the mail, as well as options to vote in person or at a drop box.
But the state’s Republicans objected to that change — insisting that Democratic lawmakers would not determine their process for choosing delegates — and sued the state. The conflict resulted in a confusing situation in which GOP voters have an opportunity to vote in Tuesday’s state-run primary — which will have no effect on the eventual GOP nominee — and the separate Republican Party-run caucuses on Thursday night that will determine which candidate wins the state’s delegates.
Trump is the only major candidate competing in Thursday’s caucuses and is expected to sweep all 26 delegates. Biden is appearing on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot along with author Marianne Williamson. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who has challenged Biden in some states, is not participating in Nevada.
The Biden campaign has used the opportunity to begin organizing its voter coalition for the general election in Nevada, a hotly contested swing state that held one of the closest U.S. Senate races in the country in 2022.
The campaign has been doing extensive outreach to mobilize state unions and young voters, as well as members of the Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in Nevada, with surrogate events over the past month. On Monday, Biden stopped by the employee cafeteria at the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas to meet with culinary union workers, who often drive the organizing engine for Democratic campaigns in Nevada in presidential years.
On the Republican side, Haley, a former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, is the only remaining major GOP presidential contender on Tuesday’s primary ballot, but any votes that she wins will have no practical impact on the contest or her effort to defeat Trump.
Haley’s campaign balked at the $55,000 fee that the Nevada Republican Party imposed for any candidate to compete in their party caucus. Haley’s aides and top strategists with several other GOP campaigns also were troubled by the deep ties connecting Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald and other state party officials with the Trump campaign.
Haley has signaled an intent to maintain her a long-shot effort against Trump, even as many Republicans say her window to stop or slow him has closed after a double-digit loss in New Hampshire, the early state where she was best positioned against him. Haley trails Trump by 26 points in her home state, which votes on Feb. 24, according to a recent Washington Post-Monmouth poll.
Last year, Nevada Republican Party leaders were invited to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, where they discussed the 2024 caucus process and the politics of the state, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting. That meeting took place as Trump’s team was engaged in an aggressive early effort to court officials who have significant autonomy in deciding how their states select delegates.
Many Nevada GOP leaders have also championed Trump’s false claims that he won the 2020 election. Late last year, a Nevada grand jury charged six Republicans who claimed to be presidential electors in 2020 and submitted certificates to Congress falsely asserting that Trump had won the election in their state, including McDonald.
Viewing the state GOP as essentially another arm of the Trump campaign, many of the GOP candidates opted not to spend money organizing in Nevada this cycle — including Haley.
“We have not spent a dime nor an ounce of energy on Nevada. We aren’t going to pay $55,000 to a Trump entity to participate in a process that is rigged for Trump,” Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankney told reporters on Monday. “Nevada is not and has never been our focus.”
Primary voters also have an option to choose “none of these candidates” when they fill out the ballot.