Published Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024 | 8:21 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024 | 9:47 p.m.
Nevada Republicans said they decided to hold privately run caucuses to choose their presidential nominee because it would be a safer, more transparent contest than the state-run primary held Tuesday.
The state GOP’s website says its caucuses offer, among other things, “transparent tabulation.”
But the transparency ended shortly after the event started about 5 p.m. at nearly 50 sites around Southern Nevada, when party workers told assembled media they had to leave. The Sun before the event was briefly allowed into four sites, where we took pictures — and respected the party’s golden rule of not recording video.
“No media or recording is allowed,” said Rachel Fredriksen, caucus site team leader, instructing a Sun reporter to leave the Cambridge Recreation Center near East Flamingo Road and Maryland Parkway.
Journalists intended to watch the nominating and results tabulation, hoping to see how counting paper ballots from the less than three-hour caucus was more efficient than electronic voting systems and mail ballot processing employed by the Nevada Secretary of State and the Clark County Election Department.
One caucus worker, when a reporter introduced herself as a member of the media, interrupted her by saying, “No, nope. We are too overwhelmed.”
The caucus result was predictable: Former President Donald Trump defeated a long-shot challenger to earn Nevada’s 26 delegates at the Republican National Convention this summer. The race was called by the Associated Press at 8:05 p.m.
And just a few hours later, at a caucus celebration party at Treasure Island, Trump made an unfounded claim that the turnout Thursday passed the record from the 2016 GOP caucus, when more than 75,000 votes were cast in Trump’s initial White House bid.
“You have to have strong borders and you have to have free, fair and honest elections,” Trump said. “And we don’t have either … we have to protect our democracy.”
But Trump also thanked voters and conceded the path to the presidency will likely run through Nevada.
“I just want to really thank the great people of Nevada. … If we win this state, we easily win the election in November,” Trump said.
It’s unknown if the party will release turnout totals for its privately run nominating contest. At the sites the Sun visited, there were traffic jams to get into parking lots and long lines to enter. Signs promoting Trump’s campaign peppered the locations.
“I’ve had it on my calendar for a week,” said Shannon Fell, a Henderson resident who wrapped herself in a thick, fluffy blanket as she waited to get into Green Valley High School to caucus for Trump.
Fell said she likes that Trump “tells it like it is.”
“He’s a businessman, not a politician,” Fell said. “When he was in office, he did great things for the country.”
The line of residents wound from the cafeteria where the caucusing took place, down a long corridor hugging the courtyard, past the school gates and nearly to the tennis courts — and that was about 5:45 p.m., or 45 minutes after the event started.
A young woman at Green Valley High said she supports Trump for “his ideas, his policies, his beliefs.” Although Republicans could participate in both, she didn’t vote in Tuesday’s primary; she said she was willing to wait in the long line at the caucus to vote for the person she wanted.
It was a similar scene across town at Cashman Middle School near Desert Inn Road and Decatur Boulevard.
Cuban-born Carlos Jorge, 71, was part of the mostly older crowd that made its way into the school.
Jorge, a Vietnam War veteran, said he was concerned about the immigration crisis at the southern border, inflation, foreign wars and the military’s struggles with recruiting.
Jorge also voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.
“I’m not saying you should be one political party or the other, but I think you should be led by someone who wants the best for our country, and at this point I think Trump does,” Jorge said.
Todd Simon, 48, said Thursday marked his second time voting in a caucus after participating in the 2016 Nevada Democratic caucuses to support Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Candidates like Trump and Sanders earned his backing because they’re popular figures outside the political establishment, he said.
Even though Trump was poised for an easy win from the get-go, Simon said it was important still to turn out. But there was another reason Simon turned out: He bought a ticket to Trump’s caucus watch party at Treasure Island, where local attendees were instructed to show proof they caucused in order to gain entry to the event.
“I want to make sure,” said Simon, who participated in the Cambridge site caucus. “Sometimes people think everybody’s going to come out, then everybody ends up sitting at home and nobody actually comes out.”
Turnout, especially in the battleground state of Nevada, will be critical in November when a rematch of the 2020 election between Trump and President Joe Biden is likely.
Biden was victorious Tuesday here in the presidential primaries by winning 90% of the votes against a field of mostly unknown opponents.
“Donald Trump is trying to divide us, not unite us; drag us back to the past, not lead us to the future,” Biden’s campaign stated.
Trump also claimed a victory of sorts in Tuesday’s primary results, even though he wasn’t on the ballot. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley finished second in the primary behind “none of these candidates,” viewed as a proxy vote for Trump.
More than 74,000 GOP votes were cast in the primary, with “none of these” receiving about 63.3% of the vote compared with Haley’s 30.5%.
Haley’s campaign manager said this week the campaign had “not spent a dime nor an ounce of energy on Nevada” because it viewed the contest as “rigged.”
Trump, meanwhile, poked fun at the electorate’s repudiation of Haley.
“I’d like to congratulate ‘none of the above,” Trump joked. “But seriously, this was a great day.”
The Nevada GOP, led by Trump loyalists, barred candidates from participating in the caucuses if they signed up for the primary — leaving only Trump and Texas businessman Ryan Binkley on the caucus ballot after other notables seeking the nomination dropped out.
The Republicans will leave Nevada for the next nominating contest, in Haley’s home state of South Carolina.
The Sun’s Hillary Davis and Grace Da Rocha contributed to this story.