In Nevada’s Republican primary on Tuesday, Nikki Haley appeared to lose decisively to the option “none of these candidates,” a troubling sign for her campaign as she seeks crucial electoral momentum against rival Donald Trump.
With the majority of the expected vote reported, “none of these candidates” received nearly double the votes that Haley earned as of early Wednesday morning.
“None of these candidates,” Haley, a number of long shot challengers and two former GOP candidates — Mike Pence and Tim Scott — were on Nevada’s primary ballot.
Pence and Scott received a few thousand votes combined and some of the minor candidates garnered several hundred in total.
The Haley campaign did not respond directly to a question about their loss, instead releasing a statement where they called Thursday’s competing caucuses a “game rigged for Trump,” an allegation the Nevada Republican Party has repeatedly denied.
Haley’s campaign manager also said going into Tuesday that “we have not spent a dime nor an ounce of energy on Nevada.”
“Even Donald Trump knows that when you play penny slots the house wins,” the Haley campaign wrote in their statement after the results became clear. “We didn’t bother to play a game rigged for Trump. We’re full steam ahead in South Carolina and beyond.”
Still, the primary result comes as a blow to Haley’s standing with GOP voters, as she was the only major candidate running and was anticipated by some allies to win with a bigger turnout than the upcoming caucuses — where Trump is the only major candidate and is expected to win — because primary contests tend to get more participation given their more accessible format.
With Haley ineligible to win any delegates in Nevada due to a state party rule that disqualified candidates who participated in the primary (amid a dispute over preserving the tradition of the caucuses), those Haley allies were banking on the possibility of a win in the primary serving as a messaging boost for her.
The “none of these candidates” option is a unique feature in Nevada elections that reportedly dates back to 1975 — enshrined in the state law governing elections.
The option has stayed relatively low profile other than in 1976, when it reportedly won the plurality of votes in the Republican primary for a House race — with the second-place candidate winning the nomination — and during the 1996 presidential election, when “none of these candidates” received about as many votes as the margin that Bill Clinton won over Bob Dole.
Trump reacted to Haley’s Nevada loss on his social media platform, saying it was a “bad night” for his Republican challenger and joking: “Watch, she’ll soon claim Victory!”
Multiple state party officials told ABC News after the projection that this was an expected result based on the prevalent mood among Republicans in the state leading up to the primary.
“That was kind of the expected result,” Nevada Republican Party’s National Committeeman Jim DeGraffenreid told ABC News, noting Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, who recently endorsed Trump, had also suggested he would be casting his vote to “none of these candidates.”
“This is the third state to vote, and I haven’t seen any strength out of her [Haley] when ballots are actually cast yet,” DeGraffenried continued.
Clark County Republican Party Chair Jesse Clark echoed that. “This result was expected because Nikki Haley was running against the American people and Nevada voters noticed,” he argued.
Many Nevada Republicans soured on Haley after she chose to partake in the state-run primary, which the state GOP aggressively opposed by sticking with their party-run caucuses and declaring that would be the only way to win delegates. These Nevada Republicans saw Haley’s move as a sign that she considered their delegates something she could ignore completely.
Haley has also barely campaigned in the state, having little to no ground operation and visiting only once so far this cycle, during a brief appearance as a guest speaker at the Republican Jewish Coalition cattle call last year.
ABC News spoke with Nevada voters walking out of polling stations earlier on Tuesday, many of whom said they were Trump supporters who plan to caucus on Thursday.
“Today, I voted for ‘none of the above,’ because on Thursday, I’m voting for President Trump, who I will continue to vote for,” said Doug Durbin, who said he cast his vote in the Republican primary at the Veterans Memorial Community Center Tuesday afternoon partly to make a “statement.”
Durbin said many fellow Republicans around him were not motivated to participate in the primary because of the non-competitive nature of the contest but stressed the importance of exercising the right to vote one way or another.
“I have one leg — I’m on a prosthesis — and I came here today because, like you said, to make a statement and more than anything to make sure that my vote doesn’t get taken by others,” Durbin said. “We need to get up and get out, one leg or two, and make our vote count.”
Similarly, another Nevada Republican voter, Jill Landerman, walking out of a polling station Tuesday afternoon, told ABC News she voted for someone other than Haley and plans to caucus for Trump, even though she felt that Trump is just “the less of two evils,” referring to President Joe Biden.
Jill Douglass, a member of the Nevada Republican Party who was volunteering as an election worker at a polling location on Tuesday, said Republican voters appeared to be split between those not motivated to participate in the primary and those coming in to choose “none of these candidates.”
Douglass voiced concerns about the use of “none of these candidates” as a form of political statement, saying it could backfire on future elections.
“That could come back to bite the party for future elections because now you have made the voter base so much more aware of ‘none of the above,'” Douglass said. “I think traditionally, it’s not anything we’ve focused on as a viable selection, and now you’re like, oh, I can vote ‘none of the above.’ That could ultimately hurt the Republican Party in future elections.”
First appeared on abcnews.go.com