Nevada’s primary debacle has some GOP campaigns threatening to write off the state

Republican Party leaders in Nevada say they’re certain of one thing next year: They will hold a caucus on Feb. 8 to determine the state’s presidential primary winner.

The problem? Nevada officials have already scheduled a primary at the ballot box — two days earlier — to determine the state presidential primary winner.

The party plans to ban presidential candidates from taking part in its caucus if they appear on the state ballot, and will award delegates only to caucus participants.

But the possibility of a party-run caucus superseding the state primary is prompting clashes between the 2024 campaigns and party leaders.

The campaigns of two candidates are already lodging accusations of election rigging to favor former President Donald Trump. Some Republicans warn it will disaffect potential voters who aren’t aware of the caucus.

Campaign activity overall from the GOP field has been light in Nevada. Out of the $100 million spent in ads in the GOP presidential nominating race so far, candidates and outside groups have spent about $1 million in Nevada, far less than in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact.

And finger-pointing has ensued between the state party chair and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis allies.

A super PAC aligned with DeSantis pointed to the process in its decision to end door-knocking efforts in Nevada this week, calling the state GOP chair a “Trump puppet.” An official with another presidential campaign told NBC News it will probably “write off the state entirely.”

“Irony is not lost on us that Trump and his cronies rail against elections that aren’t actually rigged, but then go rig an entire state’s election,” the official with one of the GOP presidential campaigns charged. The official requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak on strategy.

A Trump campaign adviser responded that the caucus system is one dictated by the grassroots.

“To attack Republican leadership for picking a process that they believe should be done by Republicans in Nevada, they’re also essentially attacking Republicans in Iowa,” the Trump adviser said. “You can’t attack a party process without attacking the grassroots.”

Trump campaign adviser Chris LaCivita said DeSantis’ super PAC, Never Back Down, was “out-organized” in the state and now is lodging accusations because of sour grapes.

Nevada is a key early state in the presidential process — the first contest in the West, coming after New Hampshire. In theory, a win there should build momentum before heading to South Carolina, the final of the four early nominating states.

The state of Nevada scrapped its caucus primaries after Democrats pushed for change following partywide discontent over the process. In 2021, the Democratic-dominated Legislature passed a state law changing the election from a caucus to a primary. But some Republicans still want a caucus so they have control over how their election is run. The details of how it all will be executed are still being hashed out, including in a case pending before Nevada’s Supreme Court where the GOP is trying to supplant the state primary. There is also a Sept. 23 meeting before the Republican state central committee.

Nevada Republican Party GOP Chair Michael McDonald said the intent of the caucus is to “run an election the way Republicans want it run,” without the possibility of early voting or ballot harvesting and, he contends, free of fraud.

A campaign spokesperson with Vivek Ramaswamy said he plans to take part in the caucus.

“We will be going for delegates and under the current version of the rules, that’s the caucus,” Tricia McLaughlin said.

McDonald took issue with allegations that he was in the tank for Trump, saying that he has been in touch with several presidential campaigns.

“We have to make sure we have a fair and transparent election, and that’s what this is about,” McDonald said. Asked if there was any scenario where a caucus would not be held, McDonald said, “No. We’re going to have a caucus, everything is set right now.”

A caucus primary run by the party is considered advantageous to Trump, given that McDonald and the GOP party hierarchy acted as false electors for Trump in 2020, and the party’s executive committee earlier this year traveled to Mar-a-Lago. But McDonald said if DeSantis invited them to the governor’s mansion, they would also attend.

“This is about promoting Nevada,” he said. McDonald on Thursday said that at a luncheon after the first presidential primary debate in Milwaukee, he personally invited DeSantis to Nevada and asked him to have his campaign call the party. McDonald also said that DeSantis allies were making efforts to quash the caucus.

A DeSantis spokesman said the campaign is in constant touch with state parties across the country and had spoken with Nevada’s on Thursday.

Asked for a response on whether the campaign is organizing opposition to the caucus, DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said, “We’re exploring all options in Nevada to best position Ron DeSantis to be the next president.”

David Gibbs, a former Clark County chair and a member of the state central committee, is opposing the caucus, saying, “the potential for confusion is significant.”

“I like caucuses over primaries, I’m just not a fan of doing both,” Gibbs said. “It’s very confusing for Joe public, who doesn’t pay close attention to this stuff.”

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