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Nevada GOP Chairman On What's Driving Republican Voters In The State

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The question tonight for the Republican Presidential race is whether Donald Trump will get his third win in a row. And if he does, there will be a lot of attention on who comes in second. We're talking about the Republican caucuses in Nevada which are happening today. The results aren't expected until late - about 9 p.m. local time, midnight Eastern Time. Now, to talk about what's driving Republican voters there, we're joined by party chairman Michael McDonald. Welcome to the program.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It's a pleasure.

CORNISH: I want to talk to you a little bit about the Republican electorate in the state. Marco Rubio has noted that his parents spent some time in the Mormon Church while his father was working in the state. Obviously Mormons have been an important part of the Republican Party there in recent years. Is there a favorite among Mormon voters this year?

MCDONALD: We've seen that there was. In the beginning, there was a favorite, clearly, with the connection that Senator Rubio had, and his leadership team that ran Governor Romney's campaign last time was a good connection. But what we've seen over the last couple of weeks is there's been a lot of Mormon voters that have now come to Mr. Trump, and it's been kind of a - I can't explain it - clearly above my pay grade.

CORNISH: How does Donald Trump's presence in Vegas - right? - I believe he has a hotel there. Has that translated to anything in terms of support?

MCDONALD: Clearly he has a little cottage on Las Vegas Boulevard - is the joke, but his roots - some of his supporters inside the community itself has risen. A lot of blue-collar workers are relating to him. I think he's talking to the people that have suffered for a long time trying to - after the rebound of - after the disaster of '08, trying to rebound to get their families back in line right now.

CORNISH: You talked about Trump's support growing. At the same time, the GOP caucuses in the state - they're closed. People had to have registered by about, I think, two weeks ago.

MCDONALD: Yes.

CORNISH: Is there any chance that that would kind of blunt Donald Trump's support - right? - like, not necessarily being able to draw in people at the last minute?

MCDONALD: I think if you - to just look at it, if we had a primary, that probably would have favored Mr. Trump a little bit more than a caucus. With a caucus, you're actually talking about people that are very involved, that are studying the issues and that are going to go out and stick around for the long time. We also changed the process this time. You can actually walk in, self-nominate and vote for your candidate and then leave. So we kind of made it almost a caucus, if you want to sit in the middle of it, but if you have to vote and leave, you can do that as well.

CORNISH: Right now, 17 percent of Latino voters in Nevada are registered Republicans. When you look at the language and the comments - say, Donald Trump's immigration plan, including mass deportations and comments that some Latino voters have have found offensive - do you worry about the long-term effects this primary could have on your state and for the state party?

MCDONALD: Not too much. We, in the sense of the Republican Party of Nevada - we have a great relationship with all minority communities. We work closely with some of the unions, so we're kind of in - we want to represent everybody.

CORNISH: Well, I guess I'm asking because, you know, is this a state that could go to the Democrats come fall - right? - in the race for the White House if...

MCDONALD: Yes, clearly.

CORNISH: ...If voters feel like they're not welcomed by the Republican Party?

MCDONALD: Oh, absolutely, and that's a great point. That's where we have to do our work, and our Republicans have to get out and vote and make sure they talk to their neighbors. This is an issue that we're talking about what direction you want to take America in and as far as, do you want to see what's been happening over the last four years continue, or do you want to take it in a different direction?

CORNISH: That's Michael McDonald. He's chair of the Nevada Republican Party. Michael, thank you so much.

MCDONALD: It's my honor. Thank you for taking the time today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.