Donald Trump wins Nevada’s Republican caucuses after being the only major candidate to participate

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Even though Donald Trump was expected to easily win Nevada’s Republican caucuses Thursday, his supporters waited in long lines to get their chance to cast their votes for the former president.

At one caucus site at a Reno-area elementary school, a line of nearly 1,000 people stretched around the corner and down the street 20 minutes after the caucuses opened.

Voters in line, some of whom were wearing Trump hats and shirts, said they came out to back the former president in a contest that would give him third straight win in the Republican presidential race.

“I think it’s about backing Trump up and giving him the support that he needs. And to let people know that we’re supporting him,” said Heather Kirkwood, 47.

At another site in Las Vegas, more than 100 people were still in line waiting to enter 30 minutes before the caucuses were scheduled to end.

Trump’s last major Republican challenger, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, rejected the caucuses as rigged and decided to instead run in Tuesday’s purely symbolic GOP primary — where she was overwhelmingly beaten by the “none of these candidates” option chosen by Trump supporters and disaffected voters.

Trump, speaking from his Florida resort Thursday, basked in those results and declared: “We certainly did well in a primary that didn’t matter.” And he said of his prospects in Nevada: “We expect to have a very big night.”

Republicans are increasingly converging behind Trump while he faces a deluge of legal problems, including 91 criminal charges in four separate cases. Trump is flexing his influence both in Congress — where Republicans rejected a border security deal after he pushed against it — and at the Republican National Committee, as chairwoman Ronna McDaniel could resign in the coming weeks after he publicly questioned whether she should stay in the job.

Trump still faces unprecedented jeopardy for a major candidate. A federal appeals panel ruled this week that Trump can face trial on charges that he plotted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, rejecting his claims that he is immune from prosecution. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments in a case trying to keep Trump from the 2024 presidential ballot over his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss. The justices sounded broadly skeptical of the effort.

But none of those developments seem to be hurting his standing among Republicans, including in Nevada.

Nevada’s GOP decided to bypass a primary election prescribed by the Legislature and instead hold caucuses to determine which candidate will receive its delegates, a decision Trump’s team supported.

The resulting system allowed the party more control over who participates and gave Trump a greater advantage than he already would have had, but it left some voters confused. The state GOP required candidates to choose running either in the caucuses or the primary.

Trump is the only major candidate left in the caucuses and expected to win all 26 of Nevada’s Republican delegates. He is in a strong position heading into March, when the Republican calendar ramps up, to collect the 1,215 delegates he needs to secure the nomination.

While Trump and Haley won’t have a showdown in Nevada on Thursday, they did compete in the Republican caucuses in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Trump won the contest by a large margin, picking up the territory’s four delegates.

Caucuses require candidates to cultivate more grassroots support and spend resources organizing in order to ensure they get voters to show up at an appointed time and location in the evening to show their support. The system tends to benefit Trump, with his years of backing from the party base along with the years he and his team have spent cultivating local party members.

Trump visited Nevada last month will return to the state Thursday evening to celebrate his expected victory.

His campaign has said their early efforts are groundwork for when Nevada will be a political swing state in November.

“Nevada is a battleground state in the general election and everything that we do for the caucus and organizing now will pay dividends in the weeks ahead as we begin the general election against Joe Biden,” Trump’s senior campaign adviser Chris LaCivita said.

Price reported from New York and Stern from Spanish Springs, Nevada. Associated Press videographer Ty O’Neil in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Michelle L. Price, Jonathan J. Cooper And Gabe Stern, The Associated Press

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