LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada is a pivotal early state on the 2024 election calendar, but it’s gotten much less attention than leadoff Iowa and New Hampshire.
Not this weekend.
Most of the Republican presidential candidates are in Las Vegas for the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting, which has taken on greater significance this year because of the Israel-Hamas war. Donald Trump, the front-runner for the party’s nomination, will follow his speech before that group with an evening appearance at a campaign organizing event where his team will try to lock in commitments from voters who may attend the Feb. 8 caucuses.
With the support of the former president’s allies, Nevada will have a primary election on Feb. 6, as required by state law, and caucuses two days later that are run by the state party. That setup has drawn criticism from within the Nevada GOP about potential voter confusion and concerns that the state party is attempting to tilt the scale for Trump.
A state-run ballot will be mailed to every resident before the primary; Nevada law requires universal mail ballots for primary and general elections. But the party-run caucus meetings will decide who wins Nevada’s delegates for the nomination. The caucuses will depend on the party apparatus and the candidates’ campaigns to educate voters.
“I hate it for our voters because of course they’re going to be confused,” said Will Bradley, a member of the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee. “But I respect that I’m in the minority, and I got outvoted. So I’ll do what I can to help the caucus succeed.”
Trump’s Nevada state director, Alida Benson, moved to his campaign in July after serving as the state party’s executive director. The party chairman, Michael McDonald, was as a false elector for Trump in 2020, when allies of the then-president tried to nominate Republican voters to the Electoral College in states that Democrat Joe Biden won.
McDonald has long argued that caucuses favor grassroots support and boots-on-the-ground campaigning. He pushed for the caucuses despite a state law requiring a presidential primary, because the Democratic-controlled Legislature refused to consider Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo’s election-related proposals, most notably a voter ID requirement.
A caucus “gives each candidate the opportunity to perform. It’s about getting their people out,” McDonald said in an interview last month. “And my job, as well as my goal, is to have the candidates get to know all our counties.”
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott opted for the primary. Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum will compete in the caucuses.
Some developments have indicated disagreements over caucus organizing, which is now largely in the hands of the 17 county Republican parties. The Clark County GOP vice chair, who would have been in charge of organizing the Las Vegas-area caucus sites, resigned last month. Bradley and other Central Committee members in Las Vegas said they have only received one email from the Clark County GOP referencing the caucuses in the past month.
Nearly 430 miles north in the rural mining county of Elko, GOP Chairman Lee Hoffman is wondering how to set up caucus sites that are more than 100 miles from the county’s hub of 20,000 people.
Elko County is home to 54,000 people in total over an area larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. Almost one-third of the county’s election sites used mail-only ballots in the general election, particularly in the most remote areas of the county.
Every registered Republican will receive a mail ballot for the primary through the state’s universal mail ballot law. Educating the county’s Republicans about the caucuses two days later will prove more difficult for Hoffman.
“All I can say is, we have a lot of work to do between now and the time the caucus comes to educate our Republican voters on the process, getting it organized in terms of locations and so on,” Hoffman said. “That’s going to take some effort.” ___
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a program that places journalists in local newsrooms.
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Gabe Stern, The Associated Press