RENO, Nevada — The road to the White House in 2024 runs through a handful of places like Washoe County and “The Biggest Little City in the World.”

The home of Reno is the most purple county in a critical purple state, the crucial battleground of Nevada. And with Republicans putting their presidential primary behind them, the onus is now on appealing to voters in the middle in places like this. Washoe is both a key focus and potential problem spot for both parties heading into the 2024 election. 

In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried the county over Donald Trump by just over 1 percentage point. Four years later, Joe Biden extended that local lead to 4.5 points, but the result in this year’s contest is far from assured. 

The latest numbers from Nevada’s Secretary of State show Republicans with a roughly 7,000-person lead in registered voters over Democrats out of 311,000 voters overall. That’s up from a registered voter lead of just over 1,000 in 2020. Unaffiliated voters not registered with a party make up roughly a third of the Washoe rolls. 

Like their counterparts across the country, Nevada Republicans hold widely-varied views on their nominee. To the diehards, Donald Trump is a messianic figure. To others, he’s too controversial.

“I would have to say that the majority of the Republicans in Washoe County are on board with President Trump,” says Washoe GOP Chair Bruce Parks, who spoke with fellow Republicans at last weekend’s county convention. “There were not even a handful of people [there] that expressed dissatisfaction with President Trump, but they all said they vote for him anyway. Because they cannot in good conscience vote for anybody that would do what the current occupier of the White House has done to this country.”

Yet outside activist meetings like the county party convention, there are signs that Trump has work to do. In last month’s presidential primary, with Trump not on the ballot as he competed in the GOP caucuses instead, Nevada Republicans voted for “None of These Candidates” over Haley, 63% to 31% statewide. However, Haley did considerably better in battleground Washoe County, only losing 53%-40%. 

It suggests at least some Republicans are looking for a more moderate figure. But Parks, a 20-year Army veteran who’s served as county party chair since 2021, isn’t looking for a middle-of-the-road Republican candidate.

“The moderate Republican philosophy as I’ve been able to discern means that we have to compromise our principles,” Parks insists. “There’s nothing wrong with compromise, as long as it’s for the good of the nation. But if we are compromising for the good of select groups or this lobbying organization or this pharmaceutical company, no. Absolutely no.”

The culling of moderates from the party is a red flag, according to Fred Lokken, a local political expert and professor of political science at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. “The party apparatus has been taken over by the extreme right. They’ve purged the party,” Lokken says. 

Any Republican wavering in Washoe could be decisive come November. Reno Republican Eric Rampel is focusing on what each candidate has done when making his choice.

“How was America when President Trump was there?” Rampel said. “How’s America now that Biden’s there? And I’m leaning more towards Trump with those facts in front of me.” 

With so much at stake in Washoe, Democrats are also priming their political machine for a push into Northern Nevada. 

Maddy Pawlak, communications director for the Biden campaign in Nevada, told NBC News that while there are currently no Biden offices in the state’s northern counties, a “major ramp up” is coming within the next few weeks. “We’re building the organization we need to win here, and that includes Washoe County,” she said.

One area where the parties are preparing to do battle: mail-in ballots. Nevada is a universal mail-in voting state, which has proven popular with residents. In last month’s presidential primary, 85% of Washoe ballots came through the mail. (That figure does not count those who voted in-person at the Republican caucus.)

But while party officials nationally recognize the importance of using mail voting to bank votes and turn people out, Washoe Republican officials like Parks are unconvinced.

“I’m telling all our people: take your ballot to one of the polling places, drop it off in person. Do not under any circumstance for any reason put it in the mail,” Parks said. 

That skepticism comes directly from the top of the ticket. During a Fox News interview with Laura Ingraham in February, Trump said without offering evidence, “If you have mail-in voting, you automatically have fraud.” 

Yet Parks said he plans to get involved in the hunt for mail voters too: “We’re going to try to play the game if you will, better than they do.”

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