By Bridget Bowman
Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is heading to Nevada this weekend — a first foray to an early 2024 state that’s getting less attention as the Republican presidential field focuses elsewhere.
The Republican National Committee has not yet finalized its primary calendar, but Nevada state law now calls for the state’s primary to be held on Feb. 6. That would likely place it just behind Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina among the early states that can boost (or sink) candidates’ momentum in the race for the presidential nomination.
But despite its early-state status, most Republican 2024 campaigns have not yet engaged in Nevada.
Just over 1% of ad spending in the GOP primary — $557,000 out of $40.3 million — has targeted Nevada, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact. And the presidential contenders have focused much of their campaign travel on the other three early-voting states.
DeSantis’ trip to Nevada this weekend is his first as a presidential candidate, but he is no stranger to the Silver State.
On Saturday, DeSantis will again attending the annual “Basque Fry” fundraiser for former Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s PAC. Laxalt, who lost last year’s Senate race, chairs the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down. And Laxalt and DeSantis are also longtime friends, dating back to their time as roommates when they attended Naval Justice School.
So far, Never Back Down is the only candidate-affiliated GOP group that has spent on ads in Nevada, with its most recent spot highlighting the Basque Fry, according to AdImpact.
Zachary Moyle, a Nevada GOP strategist and former state party executive director who is not working with a presidential candidate, said most candidates’ decision to spend time and money in Nevada comes down to resources.
”You can’t fault candidates for going, ‘I’m going to take every penny I have and throw it into Iowa.’ Frankly, it’s a financially prudent thing to do,” Moyle said, noting a strong showing in Iowa can lead to a fundraising boost that can help sustain a campaign in other states.
Still, by this time four years ago, Democrats’ 2020 presidential hopefuls had made dozens of visits to the state, according to the Nevada Independent.
Moyle also said that Trump and DeSantis’ dominance so far in the primary could be freezing the rest of the 2024 field — especially in terms of fundraising — which could also explain why candidates have not yet focused on Nevada.
The actual primary process in the state is also still uncertain, which could shift how campaigns approach Nevada.
In 2021, then-Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill into law that not only moved up the state’s primary date, but changed the process from a caucus to a traditional primary. The state GOP is currently suing the state to allow the party to hold a caucus.
Under a caucus system, campaigns have to focus much more on building an on-the-ground infrastructure to train, organize and turn out caucus-goers. Competing in a statewide primary puts more emphasis on ad spending.
But, Moyle noted, Nevada does present a “massive opportunity” to candidates because of its “winner-take-all” system, in which all of its delegates are awarded to the candidate who carries the state.
“If a candidate was going to look for the biggest boom they could get out of those four states — Nevada is where they’re going to get it,” Moyle said.