AP Politics

Nevada must hold a GOP presidential primary, despite a party-run caucus occurring 2 days later

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The Nevada secretary of state’s office will hold a presidential primary for Republican voters, despite the Nevada GOP saying they’ll only honor the results of their party-run caucus to choose the Republican presidential nominee.

A second longshot Republican presidential candidate cast their name on the presidential primary ballot Friday, triggering a 2021 state law that requires the Nevada secretary of state’s office to hold a presidential primary for the party.

Two presidential nominating contests are now scheduled over the span of three days in February, which could result in widespread confusion for Republican voters.

“I don’t have the ability or the opportunity to determine which law or regulation I’m going to follow,” Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar said. “That’s not my job as a regulator.”

The Nevada Republican Party’s decision to hold a caucus in spite of the state law has elicited criticism — even from within its own ranks — stemming from potential voter confusion and concerns the state party is attempting to tilt the scale for former President Donald Trump over other candidates.

Still, the caucus rules were approved in a vote by the state party’s central committee members late last month.

One of the rules approved by the Nevada GOP bars any candidate from the Feb. 8 caucus if they participate in the Feb. 6 state-run primary, setting up an ultimatum of sorts for Republican candidates trying to decide between a primary that is purely symbolic or a caucus that many say is tilted toward Trump

Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald, a fake elector in 2020 who tried to keep Trump in power after his election loss, has repeatedly defended the decision to run a caucus and maintained the rules were not set to benefit the former president. He also criticized lawmakers in Nevada’s Democratic-controlled Legislature for rejecting Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo’s proposed election laws, particularly one that requires proof of identification at the ballot box, instead of just when registering to vote.

“It gives each candidate the opportunity to perform. It’s about getting their people out,” McDonald said of the caucus in an interview after the state party approved the rules last month. “… And my job, as well as my goal, is to have the candidates get to know all our counties.”

So far, Trump and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy are the only two debate-eligible candidates to commit to the caucus. The two Republicans so far on the primary ballot — Reno resident Heath Fulkerson and Texas resident John Castro — are unknowns. Castro has made some headlines for attempting to sue Trump to get his name off the primary ballots in several states, including Nevada, citing his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The Supreme Court said it will not take up the lawsuit at the federal level.

The rest of the campaigns have not announced which nominating contest they will participate in. But Never Back Down, a Super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, pulled its door-knockers from Nevada and other states — a move that super PAC founder Ken Cuccinelli said was prompted by the Nevada GOP’s caucus plans.

The caucus also calls for voter ID, paper ballots and only same-day voting. Nevada’s election laws, used in the state-run primary, require universal mail-in ballots, early voting, same-day registration, and require an ID to register to vote, but not at the polls.

Aguilar’s office is launching a voter education project to inform voters interested in the presidential election. Still, he maintained that their outreach will strictly be about the presidential primary process his office is running, not the party-run caucus. He said caucus outreach is the job of the state party and the candidates opt for the caucus.

“If they determined this is the best interest of their party, that’s up to them,” Aguilar said. “It’s not up to me to have an opinion about it.”

___ Stern is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Follow Stern on X, formerly Twitter: @gabestern326.