Nikki Haley was outvoted in Nevada’s Republican presidential primary by a “None of These Candidates” option on the ballot on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, an embarrassment in a contest in which she faced no direct competition.
The primary, which awards no delegates, had seemed like a foregone conclusion, as former President Donald J. Trump chose not to take part. On Thursday, he will instead participate in party-run caucuses where all of the state’s 26 delegates will be awarded, a choice by Nevada Republicans that complicated the process and rendered the primary basically irrelevant.
With 88 percent of the vote on Wednesday morning, Ms. Haley trailed “None of These Candidates” by 33 percentage points.
As the top vote-getter after “None of These Candidates,” Ms. Haley is still expected to be declared the victor, according to the secretary of state’s office, which pointed to a state election law that says “only votes cast for the named candidates shall be counted” when determining the result.
But Ms. Haley skipped campaigning in Nevada entirely, choosing instead to spend her time in South Carolina, her home state and where the next primary will take place, after Mr. Trump easily won the first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Ms. Haley is expected to hold a rally in California, a Super Tuesday state, on Wednesday.
Supporters of Mr. Trump in Nevada, including Gov. Joe Lombardo, had advocated selecting “None of These Candidates” on the primary ballot as a protest vote against Ms. Haley. Republicans can then vote for Mr. Trump in the caucuses two days later, where he is essentially running unopposed after Ms. Haley, his last major rival standing, chose not to compete.
Mr. Trump jabbed at Ms. Haley’s ugly result in Nevada, writing on his social media website, Truth Social, that it was a “bad night” for her. “Watch, she’ll soon claim Victory!” he wrote, needling her again over her optimistic speech after she finished second to him in New Hampshire.
The fact that a “none of the above” option could overpower any enthusiasm from the supporters of Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is another blow to her slim chances of winning the nomination over Mr. Trump, who maintains a commanding lead in polls. It also blunts any effort of hers to demonstrate momentum or score at least a symbolic victory.
Mark Reynolds, 56, had planned to vote for Mr. Trump in Thursday’s caucuses. But he stopped by a polling place briefly on Tuesday morning to cast a vote for “None of These Candidates.”
“It’s just to send a message,” Mr. Reynolds said, noting that the primary itself was a “waste of time.”
Lloyd Reece, 65, was another Trump supporter who showed up Tuesday to deny Ms. Haley a symbolic win. But he felt that the option of “None of These Candidates” was insufficient, given that state law precludes it from winning outright. Instead, he voted for Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who dropped out of the presidential race months ago.
“She’ll get the message,” Mr. Reece said, hoping that Nevada would deny Ms. Haley momentum and that “she’ll just quit while she’s behind.”
Critics of the dual primary-caucus system in Nevada, including those in Ms. Haley’s camp, have suggested that the state Republican Party set it up to benefit Mr. Trump, which the party has denied. Michael McDonald, the state party chair, was one of the people indicted in the fake elector scheme to overturn President Biden’s 2020 election victory.
“We have not spent a dime nor an ounce of energy on Nevada,” Betsy Ankney, Ms. Haley’s campaign manager, said on Tuesday. “We made the decision early on that we were not going to pay $55,000 to a Trump entity to participate in a process that was rigged for Trump.”
Ms. Haley’s campaign brushed off the result on Tuesday night.
“Even Donald Trump knows that when you play penny slots, the house wins. We didn’t bother to play a game rigged for Trump,” Olivia Perez-Cubas, Ms. Haley’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We’re full steam ahead in South Carolina and beyond.”
The confusing system was criticized by Mr. Lombardo, a Republican, who called it “unacceptable for the voters” in an interview with a local news media outlet last year.
Nevada has traditionally held caucuses, but passed a law in 2021 doing away with them and switching to a primary, with mail-in ballots as an option alongside in-person voting. The state’s Republican Party decided to host its own contest — an in-person caucus — and forced candidates to pick one race to participate in.