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Nevada in the Spotlight

Iowa is an early state and has a caucus. New Hampshire is an early state and has a primary. Nevada is an early state and has... both! And one of them doesn't count.

This past weekend the focus was on Nevada. The main event was the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual meeting. This was the baby of the late billionaire Sheldon Adelson. He invited wealthy Jewish Republican donors to an event at one of his Las Vegas hotels and Republican candidates flocked there to be inspected by the donors, like so many cows at a cattle show. His widow, the Israel-born Miriam Adelson, has continued the tradition, but is staying neutral in the GOP primaries. This year, with Israel in crisis, the donors were keen on hearing what the candidates would do about the Middle East should they become president next year. They came and made their pitches.

At the meeting, Donald Trump told the 1,500 attendees that if he had been president, Hamas would never have attacked Israel. But he also admired Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other right-wing antisemites. This might not have been the best audience for that pitch. He also warned Hamas: "If you spill a drop of American blood, we will spill a gallon of yours." Hamas probably doesn't understand that as Israel uses the metric system and nobody there knows what a gallon is. Nikki Haley lit into Trump and said he was confused. Ron DeSantis denounced the moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel. Mike Johnson even showed up and said: "As a Christian, I know, and we believe, the Bible teaches very clearly that we're to stand with Israel."

But something else was also at play: the battle between the primary and the caucus. On Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, Nevada will hold a state-run primary. Every registered voter will receive an absentee ballot in the mail, as required by state law. Voters can mark it and mail it back. It means nothing. The winner doesn't get any delegates.

Two days later, on Feb. 8, 2024, the Nevada Republican Party will hold caucuses, like Iowa. That's where all the delegates will be chosen. Caucuses are much more sparsely attended than primaries. In a primary, every vote counts the same. The vote of a wildly enthusiastic voter counts the same as that of someone who just flipped a coin or rolled a die. Caucuses are different since they require a greater commitment of time and effort. Enthusiastic voters tend to show up and indifferent ones don't. So caucuses favor candidates whose base is wildly enthusiastic about them. In Nevada, there is the additional problem of explaining to the voters that the ballot they will get in the mail doesn't matter. Instead they need to show up 2 days later at a different location to caucus. Caucusing is complicated enough without this additional confusion. Many voters are simply not going to understand why the Nevada Republican Party decided to have caucuses when state law requires a primary.

The consequence of all this is that Nevada could have two winners. Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Mike Pence filed to run in the primary. Pence will probably still be on the ballot, even though he just dropped out. The winner won't get any delegates but will get a ton of publicity and some momentum, which may be more valuable than the handful of Nevada delegates. Two days later, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, and Doug Burgum will compete for the actual delegates in the caucus. When the caucus winner is announced, there will be less publicity and a lot of explanations of why the state had both.

Haley's strategy is probably smart. She is likely to win the primary, since all she has to do is outpoll Scott and Pence. Headlines everywhere the next day will be "Nikki Haley Wins the Nevada Primary." People in other states won't understand that she didn't get any delegates. When Trump wins the caucuses 2 days later, a lot of people are going to be scratching their heads and saying: "But didn't Haley already win Nevada?" (V)

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