LAS VEGAS–Former President Donald Trump seems destined for victory in Nevada’s Feb. 8 caucus, analysts and insiders say, increasing his chances of steamrolling former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley in her home state later this month.
The caucus, with 26 delegates toward the GOP nomination at stake, comes two days after Ms. Haley suffered a symbolic loss to “None of These Candidates” in the state-run “meaningless” primary by a margin of 2-to-1.
Pollster Rich Baris told his podcast audience that “None” served as a stand-in for President Trump. He opted out of the primary so he could compete in the GOP-sanctioned caucus that counts toward the Republican presidential nomination; the primary did not.
Ms. Haley apparently chose to participate in the primary in hopes of winning a symbolic victory, Mr. Baris said, but voters handed her a “humiliating” result.
Without President Trump on the ballot, GOP voters chose “None” instead of Ms. Haley by a 2-to-1 margin.
“This is delicious if you are a Donald Trump supporter,” Mr. Baris said. “This is history, once again.”
In two other early presidential-preference contests last month, Iowa and New Hampshire, President Trump racked up record-breaking wins.
Ms. Haley’s Nevada primary loss was also historic, Mr. Baris said. It marked the first time that more than half of Nevadans’ votes went to “None,” a choice on the ballot since the 1970s.
Haley Won’t Back Down
Tuesday’s result has turned up the volume on calls for Ms. Haley to exit the race. Critics argue that her continued candidacy is wasting resources that should be used to defeat Democrat President Joe Biden in the November general election.
But Ms. Haley and her campaign expressed determination and optimism.
“We’re full steam ahead in South Carolina and beyond,” Ms. Haley’s campaign said in an email to The Epoch Times.
In social media posts and post-primary interviews, Ms. Haley waved off the significance of Tuesday’s outcome, alleging the contest was “rigged” for President Trump.
Bruce Parks, chair of the GOP in Nevada’s Washoe County, said he rejected that argument because Ms. Haley offered no explanation as to how the caucus could be manipulated to favor any candidate. Absent such specifics, “you’re just making allegations,” he said.
Democrats’ efforts to denigrate the caucus “generated more interest in it than I ever could have done,” Mr. Parks said, adding, “I would like to express my appreciation.”
Caucuses vs Primaries
The former president and a little-known Texas businessman, candidate Ryan Binkley, are the only two “legitimate choices” for voters in the caucus, Mr. Parks told The Epoch Times.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ name was printed on the ballot before he dropped out of the race last month; votes cast for him or for any write-ins, including “None of These Candidates,” will not count, Mr. Parks said.
Nevada’s counties have all decided to keep the caucuses private, closed to news media, officials said.
The unusual primary-and-caucus setup happened because the Nevada GOP rejected the new state-mandated primary; the Democrat-led legislature instituted it in hopes of encouraging more voter participation.
Nevertheless, the turnout for Tuesday’s primary was low, officials acknowledged while expressing optimism that voters would warm up to the idea in future years. Democrats held just a primary for the first time, switching away from the traditional caucus system.
“None” drew 44,000 votes in the low-turnout GOP primary, while Ms. Haley received about 21,000 votes, according to figures on the Nevada Secretary of State’s website on Feb. 7.
Officials said they thought that an atypically rainy day in the desert communities of Clark County, the state’s most populous region, may have discouraged voters from heading to the polls.
Asked to predict turnout for the caucus, Mr. Parks replied: “Based on the amount of phone calls and the interest that has been generated, I believe that the turnout for the caucus, at least here in Washoe County, will exceed the turnout for the primary.”
Mr. Baris disagreed with media reports suggesting that President Trump’s win will lose its luster if turnout is low. The turnout doesn’t matter, he said.
‘Calculated Risk’ Backfires
He said Ms. Haley’s campaign took a “calculated risk” when she snubbed the Republican Party’s caucus and instead entered the state-run primary. Legacy media reported it as “a brilliant gamble,” he said.
By opting for the primary, Ms. Haley was apparently hoping to score bragging rights, giving her momentum for the Feb. 24 “First in The South” primary in her home state of South Carolina, Mr. Baris said.
The opposite happened, even without much prodding from pro-Trump forces.
Some Nevada party leaders did make a smattering of comments encouraging voters to select “None of These Candidates.”
But President Trump didn’t go even that far. During his last pre-contest Nevada speech on Jan. 27, he simply told people to vote for him in the Feb. 8 caucus rather than asking them to vote for “None” in the Feb. 6 primary.
But even without a concerted effort to sway voters toward “None,” Republicans overwhelmingly selected that option in all 16 Nevada counties. This signifies the movement was an “organic” expression of voters’ sentiments, Mr. Baris said.
Some voters who spoke to The Epoch Times at a polling site on Tuesday said they were, in fact, protesting against Ms. Haley and signifying support for President Trump by voting for “None.”
In 1976, the first time Nevada voters were given the “None” option on ballots, “None” was the top vote-getter, but not by a large margin, Mr. Baris noted.
‘None’ Causes Fallout
President Trump’s campaign had a field day trumpeting headlines that were unfavorable to Ms. Haley, such as: “Rebuked,” “Worse Than You Can Imagine,” and “Nevada Says ‘No’ To Nikki Haley.”
Doug Collins, a former Congressman representing Georgia, posted on the X social media platform: “Nevada has perfectly summed up the GOP primary better than any analyst or reporter could ever attempt.”
He told Ms. Haley: “Face the facts, this race is over, time to focus on defeating Biden.”
But Ms. Haley and her camp said she had no intention of retreating.
When a California Fox News anchor asked Ms. Haley whether the Nevada loss stung, she replied, “No. I mean, Nevada is such a scam…we knew months ago that we were not going to spend a day or a dollar in Nevada because it wasn’t worth it.”
Mr. Baris took issue with that characterization. He said he spoke with insiders who told him that Ms. Haley’s campaign strategically chose to enter the primary instead of the caucus; they didn’t envision losing to “None.”
Ms. Haley said she remains focused on South Carolina and the 16 “Super Tuesday” states. She also said “chaos” is consuming the Republican Party and “Donald Trump’s fingerprints are on every bit of it.”
“You don’t defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos,” she told the Fox News interviewer.
In response to a post from Ms. Haley, a supporter of President Trump who goes by the name “Brick Suit,” posted on X: “And yet in two states so far, you have only won two counties. And one of those was by a single vote. You really should drop out.”
Haley’s Prospects Debated
Ms. Haley pointed to some polls suggesting that she could beat President Biden in a head-to-head matchup.
The RealClearPolitics (RCP) average was showing her with a 3.6-percent lead over the incumbent.
President Trump was leading by fewer than 2 percentage points, the RCP says.
But neither of those leads is statistically significant because they are both within the typical margin of error, which is 3 percent to 4 percent.
“When it comes to the Trump critics, how many times have they gotten it wrong?” Mr. Parks said. “But more importantly, the Trump critics really are largely irrelevant at this point.”
Meanwhile, RCP was showing that President Trump was leading Ms. Haley by almost 30 percent in South Carolina and by 56 percent nationwide.
Mr. Parks said, “Hypothetically, what happens if Donald Trump wins in South Carolina? How’s that going to look?”
Ms. Haley and her supporters were citing some polls that were “outside the consensus,” and that those polls likely had flaws that skewed their results, Mr. Baris said.
Trends On Trump’s Side
He also said that the former president’s candidacy appears strong based on the historic proportions of his wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Every early presidential-preference contest in this cycle so far—Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada—has ended with record-breaking results favorable to President Trump.
“There is no doubt that Donald Trump is driving them all,” Mr. Baris said, adding that President Trump drove the Feb. 6 primary result although he was absent from the ballot.
In Iowa, President Trump made the record books in three categories:
Biggest margin of victory in the Iowa Caucus (almost 30 percent);
Largest number of Iowa caucus votes received (more than 56,000, despite low turnout during the coldest caucus night ever recorded);
Fastest declaration of an Iowa caucus victory (31 minutes after the polls closed), based on initial returns showing he had taken an insurmountable lead.
In New Hampshire, President Trump set the record for most votes received by any candidate in that state’s primary (176,000).
That happened even though New Hampshire allowed many “behavioral Democrats” to switch parties and vote in the Republican primary for Ms. Haley, Mr. Baris noted.
President Trump also won a record-setting share of the overall population in New Hampshire (about 12 percent).