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On Caucus Day in Nevada, Trump's pitch is all about November

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event Jan. 27. in Las Vegas.
John Locher
/
AP
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event Jan. 27. in Las Vegas.

HENDERSON, Nev. — Former President Donald Trump is expected to return to Nevada for Thursday's caucuses where he is virtually guaranteed to sweep the state's 26 delegates.

His top rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, wasn't even on the ballot — opting instead for the more symbolic Republican primary election on Tuesday.

Assured a victory, Trump is looking ahead and testing out some general-election material for a crucial audience in one of the most pivotal states in the 2024 race.

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"We're not going to have a lot of competition, but it doesn't matter," Trump told a rowdy crowd at a recent Las Vegas rally. "We want to get a great, beautiful mandate. And this November, we're going to win the swing state of Nevada."

While many eyes are on Trump's upcoming battle with Haley in her home state of South Carolina, the former president is increasingly turning his focus to his likely next opponent: President Biden.

Nevada voters look to November, too

On a rainy day in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Danielle Harper, 39, says she's already looking past the nominating contests to the November election.

As she lifted groceries out of a cart, she complained about the high cost of food.

"I'm coming out of the grocery store pissed. I promise you, I'm not happy about that grocery bill," said Harper, a mom who previously owned a medical spa. "$22 for a pack of chicken is out of line. This is America. This is crazy."

She says she would "never, ever, ever vote" for Biden, but she's not sure she can vote for Trump either.

As a disaffected voter, she knows the Trump campaign is trying to court her vote.

"I'm absolutely exactly who they want," she said. "Middle class white lady, I'm the Republicans' target. They'll say anything that they can to get me to vote for them."

Parked one row over at the grocery store, Denise Caballero, 54, would prefer not to vote for Trump either, but she's resigned to do so if it's between the former and current president.

"People would say, 'oh, you're voting for the evil of the lesser two,' " she said. "But no, I'm voting for what I want for my kids, for the future."

While the U.S. economy has bounced back in many ways, Nevada has had a slower recovery.

Because of the state's reliance on hospitality and tourism industries, Nevada was exceptionally hard hit during COVID.

Its unemployment rate remains nearly 2 points higher than the rest of the country.

Trump stoked those concerns at a recent rally in East Last Vegas, blasting Biden about the economy — and the crisis on the southern border.

"Let there be no doubt what Joe Biden is doing is a crime against our nation," he said. "It's an absolute betrayal of our country."

This week, Trump's been continuing that message with local radio and newspaper interviews.

Battleground

Trump lost Nevada in 2016 and 2020, but Nevada pollster Zac Moyle says Trump is much stronger than he was then.

He points to registration trends among Republicans, the Latino vote and the ongoing concerns about the local economy as reasons why Trump has a good opportunity to win the state in 2024.

"If we only look at statewide registration as a whole and we see how much, you know, ground Democrats are losing in terms of their voter registration advantage, particularly in Clark County," said Moyle, who formerly served as the Republican state party executive director.

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in North Las Vegas, Nev., Sunday ahead of the state's Democratic primary election.
Stephanie Scarbrough / AP
/
AP
President Biden speaks at a campaign event in North Las Vegas, Nev., Sunday ahead of the state's Democratic primary election.

Biden didn't pull any punches either when he visited Nevada this weekend ahead of Democratic primaries, despite his assured victory.

He hyped progress on the economy and warned of a nightmare should Trump return to office.

"Donald, I got bad news for you, pal. It's too late," Biden said to a cheering crowd. "You're one of only two presidents in American history, you and Herbert Hoover, who left office with fewer jobs than when you took office."

The dueling visits are another sign of the state's importance, but both candidates will have to overcome a lack of enthusiasm around a likely rematch.

Patricia Diaz stands outside her polling place in Henderson, Nev., on Tuesday. Diaz voted for President Biden but worries about her lack of enthusiasm for the political process this year.
Franco Ordoñez / NPR
/
NPR
Patricia Diaz stands outside her polling place in Henderson, Nev., on Tuesday. Diaz voted for President Biden but worries about her lack of enthusiasm for the political process this year.

Back in Henderson, Patricia Diaz, 73, doesn't consider herself a politically active person. But she feels it's important to vote.

The retired educator would like to see some other candidates emerge, but she feels the lines have been drawn between Biden and Trump.

She plans to vote for Biden in the general election.

"It would just be so sad for this country to be represented by someone who has been accused of crimes, etc.," she said, after voting in the Democratic primary. "But you only have one vote."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
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