Nevada's Republican governor criticizes the state GOP holding a caucus despite a separate primary

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo ripped his state party's plan to hold a caucus despite a primary election occurring two days prior, a split that some state GOP officials warn could confuse voters in a key early nomination state.

Speaking on the “Nevada Newsmakers” podcast episode, which aired Tuesday, Lombardo echoed widespread concerns about the parallel election processes, mainly that it would cause confusion and prove arduous for Republican voters in the western swing state. He specifically criticized a rule adopted by the state party that bars any candidate who runs in the presidential primary from participating in the caucus.

“I think that’s unacceptable for the voters and the understanding of how things should be done,” Lombardo said.

The other main concern among many Republicans — including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — is that the caucus rules would tilt the nominating process in Trump's favor. Chairman Michael McDonald, who was a fake elector for Trump during the 2020 presidential election, introduced him at a rally Saturday by promoting both the former president and the caucus process.

Lombardo did not specifically mention the criticism of the caucus rules leaning in Trump's favor. At one point, he said, “I think we all can surmise the reason why it was brought forward." Spokesperson Elizabeth Ray had no further clarification on what he was referencing.

The episode marked the first time Lombardo had spoken out about the plan. In a press conference last month alongside McDonald and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Lombardo refused to answer a question about the primary versus caucus situation, saying it was not the topic of the press call.

But on the episode airing this week, Lombardo said the dueling processes further expose internal Republican rifts — both in Nevada and nationally — that reflect poorly on the party. He referenced the chaotic process under which Republicans in Washington replaced the speaker of the House.

“It’s unfortunate,” Lombardo said. “I’ve had numerous conversations, both with the state party and other individuals involved. And it’s falling on deaf ears.”

McDonald has long said that the state party is forging ahead with the caucus due to the Democratic-controlled Legislature not considering any of Lombardo’s election-related bills, most notably his calls to implement voter ID. He called the caucus process — which will require voter ID, paper ballots, in-person voting — more secure than the Nevada primaries.

In an interview Tuesday, McDonald called Lombardo a “dear friend” and that “all the things the governor wanted in the legislative session, are in our caucus.”

“I appreciate what the governor says. But the caucus, until we get voter ID, and we get the mail-in ballot situation under control — the only pure way to have this is through a caucus,” McDonald said.

A 2021 state law required state and county election officials to hold a primary if at least two candidates from the parties file.

The Nevada GOP says it will only award delegates, which presidential candidates try to collect in each state to win the nomination, based on the results of its caucuses. That renders the state-run primary purely symbolic, but some major candidates enrolled in that process, likely for the media attention and momentum that would come from winning the primary; they include: former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and, before he dropped out, former Vice President Mike Pence.

The remaining major candidates filed for the caucus, including Trump, DeSantis, Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

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


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