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Nikki Haley loses Nevada Republican primary to ‘none of these candidates’

Even with Trump off the ballot, the former South Carolina governor was unable to win in the Silver State.

Nikki Haley suffered an embarrassing loss in the Republican presidential primary in Nevada Tuesday, receiving far fewer votes than the "none of these candidates" option, according to the Associated Press.

With 86% of the votes counted, Haley received less than half (20,799, or 30.8%) than the 42,534 garnered by "none of these candidates."

It was a contest that former President Trump did not compete in and which the state party tried to have canceled. Nonetheless, a combination of intense support for Trump and distaste for Haley among Republican voters in the state combined to deal her an unusual humiliation.

The option to vote for "none of these candidates" first appeared on the Nevada ballot in 1975. And over the years the option has prevailed in a handful of statewide and presidential elections. Before Tuesday, the most recent case was in 2014, when "none of these candidates" received more votes than any of the eight individual candidates in Nevada's Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Why Nevada is holding dueling primary elections

Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event in South Carolina.
Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event in Lancaster, S.C., on Feb. 2. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The confusing situation in Nevada stems from a disagreement between the state's Republicans and Democrats. Democrats in the Nevada legislature passed a law in 2021 that moved the state from a caucus to a primary system.

Caucuses are famous because of Iowa, but they are far less common across the country because they reduce the number of voters to a much smaller number. Voters have to show up at a certain time on a certain day, usually at night, and they have to remain at the caucus site for an extended period of time to hear speeches and go through the voting process.

In a primary, voters can show up in the hours that polls are open on Election Day, cast their ballot and leave. And many states now offer early voting, which expands voter access.

Nevada Democrats were trying to move their state up in the nominating process, to take advantage of the national party’s desire to give more diverse states a bigger role. And ultimately, the Democratic National Committee did move Nevada’s primary to second in the process, after South Carolina.

President Biden, as expected, handily won the Nevada Democratic primary on Tuesday.

But Nevada Republicans did not want to use a primary, and last year the Nevada GOP insisted on using a caucus. They got their wish, but when the Nevada GOP also tried to get the state primary canceled, state officials refused.

What’s next

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Reno in December.
Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Reno, Nev., Dec. 17, 2023. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Trump will be on the Nevada ballot later this week when the Nevada Republican Party holds its GOP caucuses. That contest, and not the primary, will decide who wins Nevada’s 26 delegates, and the former president is expected to win.

Haley’s campaign manager said this week that the Nevada caucuses are “rigged for Trump” and said that Haley had “not spent a dime nor an ounce of energy on Nevada.” Because Haley competed in the primary, the Republican Party ruled that she was forbidden to compete in the caucuses.

That’s also the day that the U.S. Virgin Islands is holding their Republican caucuses, and Haley is hoping she can win the territory’s 4 delegates.

After that, the big contest is South Carolina’s Republican primary on Feb. 24. Given that Haley was born in South Carolina and served as its governor from 2011 until 2017, she’s hoping that she can pull off an upset there, despite polls showing Trump leading her by roughly 27 points.

The eventual winner of the Republican presidential primary will need to win 1,215 delegates to clinch the nomination. So far, Trump has 33 delegates to Haley’s 17.