LAS VEGAS (AP) — Even without Donald Trump on Nevada’s Republican ballot, Nikki Haley was denied her first victory.
The indignity of a distant second-place finish behind “none of these candidates” was a fresh blow for Haley, facilitated by the staunch Trump allies who lead Nevada’s GOP. They had already maneuvered to ensure Trump has a lock on the state’s 26 delegates, who will be awarded in caucuses on Thursday where he faces only token opposition.
Rarely has a none-of-the-above campaign had such muscle behind it.
Formally, the Trump campaign told supporters only to worry about Thursday, but many of his allies in state and local GOP committees made it known that they could still show support for Trump by registering their opposition to Haley.
Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, did not campaign in Nevada, saying Trump’s allies had rigged the rules in his favor.
“At the end of the day, the disrespect that Nikki Haley showed us, she just got reciprocated,” Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald said Tuesday night.
With 86% of the expected votes counted, “none of these candidates” was leading Haley by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
Nevada lawmakers added “none of these candidates” as an option in all statewide races in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal as a way for voters to participate but express dissatisfaction with their choices. “None” can’t win elected office but came in first in primary congressional contests in 1976 and 1978. It also finished ahead of both George Bush and Edward Kennedy in Nevada’s 1980 presidential primaries for their respective parties.
McDonald said it was left to each county GOP chair to decide if they wanted to promote “none of these candidates” on the ballot.
“I stand behind them 1,000%,” he said of the GOP chairs. “When I was asked, I said ‘Look, I can’t tell you how you vote, (but) I can tell you how I’m voting.’”
McDonald is fiercely loyal to Trump and is one of six so-called “fake electors” indicted by a Nevada grand jury for submitting certificates to Congress falsely declaring him the winner of the 2020 presidential election in the state.
Nevada, the third state in the 2024 field after Iowa and New Hampshire, was set to hold a state-run primary election instead of party-run caucuses after Democrats controlling the Legislature changed the law to try to boost participation.
But Nevada Republicans chose to hold party-run caucuses instead, saying they wanted certain rules in place, like a requirement that participants show a government-issued ID.
The caucuses on Thursday are the only Nevada contests that count toward the GOP’s presidential nomination. But they were seen as especially skewed in favor of Trump because of the intense grassroots support they require from candidates and new state party rules that benefit him further.
Haley certainly thought so. Her campaign criticized the process, refused to pay the $55,000 fee to compete in the caucuses, and made no effort to campaign in Nevada, opting instead to go all out in her home state of South Carolina, where Republicans vote later this month.
The state GOP barred candidates who registered for the primary from competing in the caucuses. Election officials reported widespread confusion as voters expecting to vote for Trump did not see him on their ballots.
Washoe County GOP Chair Bruce Parks, who pushed the decision to favor caucuses, said in an interview that he told voters who called his office — and Trump supporters — to participate in the primary by voting for “none of these candidates” over Haley.
“They basically told us ‘they don’t care about us,‘” Parks said in an interview Tuesday night. “By marking ‘none of these candidates,’ we respond in kind — we don’t care about you either.”
Trump campaigned in Nevada 10 days before the primary and urged his supporters to focus on the caucuses, saying the primary “doesn’t mean anything.”
“Don’t waste your time on the primary,” he said.
But his supporters in the state ensured voters knew how to support him anyway.
“My job as a party boss is to get people to vote,” said Leo Blundo, Nye County GOP chairman. “So we kept it simple for people–just vote none of the above. If you want to vote for Trump, vote none of the above, that’s it. And that keeps people voting.”
Stern reported from Reno, Nevada.