Here’s Why Nevada Is Holding Two Dueling GOP Primaries Next Week—As Trump Keeps Saying He’s Already Won

Topline

The third GOP presidential nominating contest is set to take place in Nevada next week—but the election is largely a wash as former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley won’t directly compete, under a new law that effectively split the state’s primary and caucuses into two separate events on different days.

Key Facts

Haley’s name will appear on the primary ballot on Feb. 6, and Trump will run in the state caucuses on Feb. 8.

Both are the only major candidates still in the race who will appear on the ballots, but the state’s 26 delegates will only be awarded to the caucus winner—all-but-certain to be Trump, who has repeatedly declared he has already won the state.

The split contests are the result of a 2021 law passed by the Democrat-controlled state legislature requiring each party to hold a primary, instead of what lawmakers argued is a more complicated caucus process in which voters appear in-person to publicly back candidates.

The state’s Republican Party opposed the decision, opting to continue holding caucuses, barring delegates from being awarded in the primary and prohibiting candidates who compete in the primary from participating in the caucuses.

Sticking with the caucuses was largely viewed as a move by the state GOP to help Trump’s performance in the state, as critics of the decision argue his fervent base of supporters are more likely to turn out for the in-person caucus events, giving him an advantage over other candidates.

Haley, who is likely to win the primary despite its insignificance in obtaining delegates, told the Wall Street Journal in November that the caucus process “just looked confusing in Nevada” when asked why she opted to participate in the primary instead—she has also focused her campaign nationally on winning over more moderate voters who aren’t fervent Trump backers.

Key Background

Trump is slated to win Nevada after clinching victories in Iowa on Jan. 15, when he won 51% of votes compared to Haley’s 19% and DeSantis’ 21%, and in New Hampshire last week, when he earned 54% of votes versus 43% for Haley. Haley has faced pressure from within the highest ranks of the GOP to drop out of the race, but she has vowed to stay in the contest at least until the primary in her home state of South Carolina Feb. 24. Trump is widely expected to secure the nomination as early as Super Tuesday on March 5, when 874 delegates are at stake in 16 states and territories, according to a Washington Post analysis of polling projections in the upcoming primary states. So far, Trump has won more than half, 32, of the 62 delegates awarded in the first two contests, while Haley has 17. A candidate must win at least 1,215 to secure the nomination.

Surprising Fact

Registered Republicans can vote in both contests. While Haley and Trump are the only two major candidates left in the race, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum were set to compete in the caucuses, while South Carolina Gov. Tim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence were slated to appear on the primary ballot. Longshot candidate, businessman Ryan Binkley, will also compete alongside Trump in the caucuses.

Chief Critics

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns that the dueling GOP contests could confuse voters. Nevada’s Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, who has expressed plans to caucus for Trump, called the new process “unacceptable” and “unfortunate” in an October interview with the “Nevada Newsmakers” podcast, adding he fears it could “disenfranchise” voters who opt to participate in the GOP primary. The Nevada Republican Club also argued the new system will “give average voters the impression they don’t care about them or their votes,” the group reportedly wrote in a September letter to GOP officials. Haley’s and DeSantis’ allies have also accused the Nevada GOP of sticking with the caucuses to sway the contest in Trump’s favor. “Trump hates rigged elections, except when he’s the one doing the rigging, like he’s doing in Nevada,” former Never Back Down super PAC founder Ken Cuccinelli said previously.

Contra

The Nevada Republican Party has argued its caucuses are more secure than the primary process, because they are held in-person on a single day, prohibit mail-in ballots (except for active military) and require participants to show ID at the caucus site. “The caucus, until we get voter ID, and we get the mail-in ballot situation under control — the only pure way to have this is through a caucus,” Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald, an accused fake elector for Trump in the 2020 presidential election, told the Associated Press in October.

Tangent

The Nevada Republican Party sued to stop the state’s new primary process, but dropped the court challenge earlier this month. A district court judge initially denied the request in July last year, citing the party’s ability to continue awarding delegates through the caucus process, and the GOP appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. The Nevada Democratic Party, in response to the lawsuit, argued it was intended to “benefit former President Donald Trump,” adding that the state legislature changed the rules to “simplify the process and make voting easier and more accessible.”

What To Watch For

President Joe Biden is running against author Marianne Williamson in the Nevada Democratic primary, with 49 delegates up for grabs. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) missed the filing deadline and will not be on the ballot. The contest is the second on the Democratic primary calendar, after New Hampshire on Jan. 23. Biden did not appear on the New Hampshire ballot, but won the state anyway, amid a feud with the state and national Democratic parties over the Democratic National Committee’s decision to make South Carolina the first state on the primary calendar. South Carolina’s primary is set for Saturday.

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