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Trump is expected to sweep Nevada's delegates — while not on the GOP ballot

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

OK, this may sound confusing, but former President Donald Trump will not be on the ballot in today's primary in Nevada.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

But he's assured to sweep the state's 26 delegates. That's because there are actually two nominating contests in Nevada - today's primary, which Nikki Haley is on the ballot for, and Thursday's caucus, where Trump is the only major candidate participating.

MARTIN: NPR's Franco Ordoñez is in Las Vegas, where local voters are also trying to make sense of it all. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: OK, simple question - why are there two contests?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it is a simple question, but not really a simple answer. It's kind of part of a conflict between the state Republican Party, which is run by Trump allies, and a state law that mandates the primary must be held. Nevada actually has long held caucuses, but the state Legislature passed a law in 2021 switching to a more straightforward primary vote. But the nominating contests are run by political parties and not the state, and the Nevada Republican Party decided to stick with a caucus, which awards the 26 delegates. So voters will be heading to the polls today, and Nikki Haley is almost guaranteed to win, but it's largely a symbolic victory.

MARTIN: You've been talking to voters. What do they make of all this? Are they able to make sense of this?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it's caused a lot of problems. I was out talking to voters yesterday. I mean, there were some Republicans who still didn't know whether they should be voting in the primary or the caucus. You know, I talked with Kathy Eskandani (ph) just south of the strip. She kind of summed up the feelings of a lot of voters here.

KATHY ESKANDANI: I was shocked. I looked at my sample ballot and told my husband, Donald Trump isn't on the ballot. Like, what is that? Nikki Haley's there, a couple other names I didn't know, but no Trump.

ORDOÑEZ: And even more confusing, registered Republicans can vote in both the primary and the caucus. There's no law prohibiting them from doing so. So all of this has just led to accusations of conspiracy and election fraud. Chuck Muth, a local Republican political consultant, told me it just makes the state look bad.

CHUCK MUTH: It's a total disaster from a public relations standpoint 'cause even active Republicans who are very attuned to what's going on are completely confused by why this is being done the way it's being done.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, Michel, on the flip side, there are local - other local pundits that say that, or at least told me that it's raised attention about the contest and may have actually boosted Republican registration.

MARTIN: OK. So what do we think this means for the race?

ORDOÑEZ: It's all just kind of weird. I mean, you're basically going to have two winners this week in Nevada. You know, there's also a lot of talk in political circles that more people could show up at the primaries, and Haley could get more votes than Trump does in the caucuses. That would certainly be embarrassing for Trump. So I'll be watching for that. But again, if it does, it won't change the fact that Trump gets all the delegates.

MARTIN: OK. Reminder - Republicans aren't the only ones voting this week, though, right? The Democrats are, too, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. You're absolutely right. I mean, while Republicans are also trying to figure all their stuff out, Democrats are also voting today, and it's also an election with a clear winner in President Biden. So while the outcome for the primary may be set, Nevada is just such an important state in the general election. It's actually the first of the big six swing states to vote in a primary, making it extra important. The campaigns are out looking to test messaging and get any information they can as they prepare for November.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez in Las Vegas. Franco, thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GIZMO VARILLAS' "EL DORADO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
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