Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley suffered an embarrassing defeat Tuesday in a nonbinding Republican primary in Nevada where she was the only major candidate on the ballot, while President Biden notched an easy victory on the Democratic side.
In a contest that Donald Trump skipped and does not count toward delegates to the nominating convention, more Republican primary voters selected the “none of these candidates” option on the GOP primary ballot than chose Haley, the Associated Press projected. Some of Trump’s top backers in the state had encouraged his supporters to choose that option on the ballot that was mailed to every voter to show the state’s support for the former president.
Under rules set by the Nevada GOP, the Republican contenders had to choose to participate either in the caucuses run by the party or the state-run primary. Facing the near-certainty of a major Trump victory in the caucuses, which counts toward convention delegates, Haley — Trump’s only remaining rival as he closes in on the nomination as the commanding front-runner — chose to put her name on the primary ballot. But Tuesday night’s result was yet another sign of the fervent loyalty of Trump’s supporters and the backlash against those who challenge him.
Biden faced only nominal opposition in the state’s first primary in nearly three decades, and the AP projected his decisive victory. The contest was yet another step for Biden toward winning renomination, as his team looks to quash intraparty concerns about his age and how he would fare against former president Trump in November.
The incumbent was competing on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot along with author Marianne Williamson. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who has challenged Biden in some states, did not participate in Nevada.
With 53 percent of the vote tallies, “none of these candidates” led the way with about 61 percent of the vote, while Haley had about 32 percent, according to the AP’s tally.
Several aides to Trump’s campaign described the results in the Nevada primary late Tuesday night as “organic” — insisting that the campaign did not put any money behind the message that GOP voters should select the “none of these candidates” option on the ballot. The campaign has focused its efforts instead on organizing people to show up for the Thursday party-run caucus where delegates are at stake.
In a post on his Truth Social platform late Tuesday night, Trump wrote: “A bad night for Nikki Haley. Losing by almost 30 points in Nevada to ‘None of These Candidates.’ Watch, she’ll soon claim Victory!”
Chris LaCivita, a top Trump adviser, also sought to draw attention to the result on social media — stating that there was “more embarrassment coming in South Carolina” in that state’s Feb. 24 primary and arguing that the Haley “Delusion Tour continues,” a reference to her narrowing path to the nomination.
In a statement, Haley’s campaign said that it had bypassed Nevada after determining that party activists would drive a favorable outcome for Trump. “Even Donald Trump knows that when you play penny slots the house wins,” Haley spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said in a statement Tuesday night. She added, “We didn’t bother to play a game rigged for Trump. We’re full steam ahead in South Carolina and beyond.”
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 of South Carolina, according to a recent Washington Post-Monmouth poll.
On the Democratic side, Biden had nearly 90 percent of the vote late Tuesday, with 65 percent of ballots counted.
“I want to thank the voters of Nevada for sending me and Kamala Harris to the White House four years ago, and for setting us one step further on that same path again tonight,” Biden said in a statement. “We must organize, mobilize and vote. Because one day, when we look back, we’ll be able to say, when American democracy was a risk, we saved it — together.”
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 had an opportunity to vote in Tuesday’s state-run primary 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 he is expected to sweep all 26 Republican delegates.
Even though the Democratic race was not competitive in the Silver State, the Biden campaign used the contest as a launchpad 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’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.
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 earlier this week. “Nevada is not and has never been our focus.”