RENO, Nev. (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence will skip the Nevada caucuses run by the state Republican Party, which has adopted rules that critics say favor former President Donald Trump, and will instead compete in a state-run primary contest.
Pence’s name appeared Thursday on a list of presidential candidates who filed for the primary with the Nevada secretary of state’s office. The party has barred candidates from participating in the Feb. 8 caucuses if they also run in the primary election.
By skipping the caucus, Pence gives up a chance to try to win Nevada’s relatively small number of delegates, which requires more intensive organizing across the state. Instead, a primary win could offer a symbolic opportunity to prove electability before crucial contests in South Carolina and a slate of primaries on Super Tuesday.
Pence seemed to blame his trailing fundraising on the decision, telling reporters on Friday while signing up for the New Hampshire primary in that state’s capital, Concord, that the newest campaign fundraising reports to be filed in the coming days will show other campaigns with more money.
“We’ll probably have to be a little bit more selective in where we invest resources, and that was the basis of that. But we love Nevada and we look forward to tell our story there in the primary,” Pence said.
Nevada holds a prominent place in the 2024 nominating contests as the third state to weigh in on the GOP field next year. But some presidential campaigns and Nevada Republicans have warned that the state’s impact may be muddled after the local Republican Party opted to run its own caucuses two days after a state-run primary on Feb. 6.
Last month, the Nevada Republican Party approved rules that rival campaigns say tilt the state’s nominating process in Trump’s favor.
In addition to forbidding candidates from participating in both the caucuses and primary, the state GOP also restricted super PACs from trying to bolster support for candidates in the caucuses. That restriction could be detrimental to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is heavily dependent on the Never Back Down super PAC for organizing and advertising.
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.
So far, Pence is the first major GOP contender to decide to skip the caucus. Trump, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum have filed to participate in the caucus.
Nevada GOP chair Michael McDonald said in an interview Thursday that he “thinks the world” of Pence, whom he first met through Trump, but was disappointed in his decision. He said that the former vice president was “competing for a beauty pageant for a plastic tiara” and that opting for the primary “belittles him.”
“No serious candidate that’s running for president opts in to run for a state primary when you’re not going to receive any delegates,” McDonald said, adding that he hopes Pence reconsiders.
The news was first reported by The Nevada Independent.
Pence has faced a steep challenge in the GOP primary, with Trump maintaining a solid grip on the party. Many Trump supporters view the former vice president as disloyal for failing to go along with the former president’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results. Trump is now facing criminal charges in two jurisdictions over those efforts.
Caucuses, which typically reward grassroots support and organizing, are expected to benefit Trump given his solid grip on the GOP’s most loyal voters. In a large and rural Western state like Nevada, it also means organizing in far-flung areas and getting supporters committed to turn out at a specific date and time to show their support.
A primary election, run by the state, would allow a candidate to compete before a broader pool of voters. The format favors candidates who can boost their name recognition and message through television advertising and concentrate on-the-ground organizing in heavily populated areas.
Nevada isn’t the only state to have adopted rules seen as favoring Trump, whose team has worked for years to shape the system by which state Republican parties award delegates to presidential candidates.
Michigan and California have also passed rules this year that are seen to widely benefit Trump.
The former president has strong allies in top roles at the Nevada GOP, including McDonald and Republican National Committee member Jim DeGraffenreid. Both served as fake presidential electors in 2020 as part of a scheme in Nevada and other battleground states to try to overturn Trump’s election loss. The party’s executive director, Alida Benson, left that job this summer to run Trump’s campaign in the state.
Price reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire contributed to this report.