LAS VEGAS – He wasn’t on the ballot, but Donald Trump still managed to be a winner in Nevada’s state-run Republican presidential primary.
On Thursday, Trump’s expected to land an outright victory in the Nevada GOP’s caucus.
Trump’s absence from the primary ballot wasn’t enough to provide a path to victory for Nikki Haley – Trump’s last remaining major rival for the Republican nomination.
The former two-term South Carolina governor who later served as U.N. ambassador in the Trump administration lost to a “none of these candidates” option by a wide margin in a primary where no GOP convention delegates were at stake.
Voters casting ballots in the primary couldn’t write in Trump’s name, but they could vote for “none of these candidates.” And Trump supporters Fox News interviewed outside of polling stations said that is how they voted.
While Trump, the commanding front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination as he makes his third straight White House run, wasn’t on the primary ballot, his name will be listed in Thursday’s caucus, where 26 delegates are up for grabs.
The confusion over having two competing contests dates to 2021, when Democrats, who at the time controlled both Nevada’s governor’s office and the legislature, passed a law changing the presidential nominating contest from long-held caucuses to a state-run primary.
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The Nevada GOP objected, but last year their legal bid to stop the primary from going forward was rejected. In a twist, the judge in the case allowed the state Republicans to hold their own caucuses. No delegates will be at stake in the Republican primary, while all 26 will be up for grabs in the GOP caucus.
The state GOP ruled that candidates who put their name on the state-run primary ballot could not take part in the caucuses.
Haley and some of the other now-departed Republican presidential candidates viewed the Nevada GOP as too loyal to Trump and decided to skip a caucus they believed was tipped in favor of the former president.
Nevada GOP chair Michael McDonald and both of the state’s members of the Republican National Committee are supporting Trump.
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“We made the decision early on that we were not going to pay $55,000 to a Trump entity that, you know, to participate in a process that was rigged for Trump,” Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankney argued on Monday.
While the GOP presidential candidates had to choose either the caucus or primary ballot, registered Republicans in Nevada can vote in both contests.
Trump’s campaign has been working to get the message out to supporters in Nevada that if they want to vote for the former president, they need to show up at the caucuses.
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“Your primary vote doesn’t mean anything. It’s your caucus vote,” Trump said at a rally in Las Vegas late last month. “So in your state, you have both the primary and you have a caucus. Don’t worry about the primary, just do the caucus thing.”
Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, who is supporting Trump, told the Nevada Independent last month that he would vote for “none of these candidates” in the primary, and would caucus for Trump in the state GOP’s contest on Thursday.
While her name was on the ballot, Haley ignored the Nevada primary.
Haley didn’t campaign in Nevada ahead of the primary and hasn’t been in the state since speaking in late October at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership conference.
“In terms of Nevada, we have not spent a dime nor an ounce of energy on Nevada,” Ankney emphasized. “So Nevada is not and has never been our focus.”
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As the vote count continued on Tuesday night, the former president took to his Truth Social network to take aim at Haley.
“A bad night for Nikki Haley. Losing by almost 30 points in Nevada to “None of These Candidates.” Watch, she’ll soon claim Victory!” he argued.
Trump is expected back in Las Vegas on Thursday, for a caucus celebration.
This week’s contests are just an appetizer for Nevada, which as a key general election battleground state will see plenty of campaign traffic this summer and autumn.
Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.