Trump a lock for Nevada, despite primary ballot absence

Supporters of former US president and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump watch his speech on an screen outside a Commit to Caucus Rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 27, 2024 (Patrick T. Fallon)
Supporters of former US president and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump watch his speech on an screen outside a Commit to Caucus Rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 27, 2024 (Patrick T. Fallon)
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Republicans in Nevada will get not one, but two chances this week to register support for a candidate in their party's presidential nominating contest when the western US state hosts both a primary vote and a caucus.

While much of the political attention in the United States is focused on South Carolina's February 24 Republican primary, where Nikki Haley is hoping to make a dent in Donald Trump's commanding lead, the Silver State is actually the next place to award its delegates.

Trump as the winner of those delegates is a foregone conclusion because Nevada's Republican Party has decided to ignore the results of the state-mandated primary, where Haley is the sole significant candidate, and focus only on its own caucus, where the property tycoon is the only major contender.

That has left some voters claiming the whole setup is all a fix by the Trump-leaning Nevada GOP.

"There’s no point in participating in the caucus. I can’t vote for my candidate," Haley supporter Charles Fruit told the Las Vegas Review Journal.

"They’re basically disenfranchising me. And this is happening by my own Republican party. I’m very unhappy about it."

- Swing state -

In recent history, both parties in Nevada have staged caucuses to select their presidential preference.

In 2021, a Democratic Party-sponsored bill mandated primaries, with the express intention of increasing voter turn-out through options like vote-by-mail or absentee balloting.

But, like swathes of the national party, the Nevada GOP is wildly distrustful of such measures, insisting without evidence that in-person voting with a photo ID is the only way to ensure the security of the ballot.

Daniel Lee of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says there's also a political dimension to the decision.

"The state Republican Party have been vocal supporters of Trump's candidacy," he told AFP.

A caucus -- where voters have to spend several hours in a public building -- clearly favors Trump.

"Caucus-goers are going to be those who are really fervent, like really enthusiastic, energized supporters of the candidate.

"They're the ones that are going to take the time out of their day to go to a smelly gymnasium

"And that's precisely the type of supporters that Trump has."

Nevada, which carries six votes in the electoral college that picks the US president in the general election, is a swing state that has by-and-large voted for the White House winner in recent decades.

In 2020, it backed Joe Biden by a narrow margin -- less than 35,000 votes separated him from Trump.

Many in the Nevada Republican Party refused to accept the results, falling in with Trump's repeatedly disproven claims that the election was stolen and sending a slate of false results to Congress.

Six people -- including the state party chairman -- have been indicted over this so-called "fake electors" plan.

A Trump candidacy and eventual 2024 White House win would open the door to a pardon for those convicted under such charges.

For some in the local party, the transparent attempt to put a thumb on Trump's side of the scales is hypocrisy.

"It feels like the guys that were complaining about an election being stolen are stealing an election," said Las Vegas resident Thomas Kramer, the Review Journal reported.

- 'Doesn't matter' -

Neither Haley nor Trump has campaigned particularly hard in Nevada -- Haley stopped off in the state in October, and Trump has focused most of his rallies on states further east.

For Haley, it was never in play.

"The caucuses have been sealed up, bought and paid for a long time," she told reporters last month. "But we’re going to focus on the states that are fair."

Trump will win the caucus and sweep the delegates; Haley will win the primary and get nothing, says Peter Loge of George Washington University, but the situation isn't going to move any needles.

"It doesn't matter, because, you know, Haley's decided and the national press have decided it doesn't matter," he said.

"I think most of the attention is on South Carolina, because Haley has said: 'Look, I'm going to make a race of it.'"

Additionally, the Nevada vote will struggle to gain traction when millions of Americans have their eyes focused on another big event taking place in Las Vegas next week -- the showcase final of the American football season.

"No one here is even thinking about the primary and caucus," said David Damore of the University of Nevada.

"They're much more concerned about the Super Bowl."

hg/caw/des