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No place like home for Haley as she pins her presidential hopes on South Carolina

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a rally on Wednesday in North Charleston, S.C.
Meg Kinnard
/
AP
Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a rally on Wednesday in North Charleston, S.C.

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's failure to win Tuesday's New Hampshire primary is not deterring her from continuing her presidential campaign against Donald Trump.

One month out from the South Carolina GOP contest, Haley is seeking to prove to voters and donors that she can be a better option for the party — and in the general election.

In a packed hotel ballroom near the Charleston airport Wednesday night, Haley painted the picture of a Biden-Trump rematch she said most of the country does not want and pledged to provide another choice.

"We could have that, but it's gonna take a lot of courage, courage from every person in this room," she said in her first campaign appearance post-New Hampshire.

"Courage for me to run, and courage for every one of you to know: don't complain about what happens in a general election if you don't play in this primary," she cautioned.

As the last remaining major challenger to Trump, Haley's speech Wednesday hammered the former president as "chaos" for the country — chaos Republicans can't afford to surround themselves with.

"I voted for Donald Trump twice, I was proud to serve America and his administration, I agree with a lot of his policies," she said. "But rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him."

You don't defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos, Haley added, noting another "hard truth" for Republicans is that making the changes they want to see can only happen if they win in November.

Her remarks continued to highlight verbal gaffes Trump has made recently as part of her argument for younger politicians, like when he confused her for former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a story at a rally.

"A few days ago, he was going on and on about me, I mean for a while, on and on about why I didn't send in security to the Capitol on Jan. 6," she said. "He said it over and over and over and over again. I mean — somebody's gonna tell him I wasn't there on Jan. 6. I've never been at the Capitol working in a job like that. But I think he was a bit confused and so we'll let that pass."

The bulk of Haley's stump speech touted a wide range of achievements from her time as governor, like overseeing South Carolina's reputation as the economic development "beast of the Southeast" to moving people off of welfare and into the workforce to union busting and criminal justice reforms.

Searching for support in the South

Haley supporters at her rally spoke of a strong, conservative leader with governing experience who also has the advantage of being decades younger than many of America's top politicians, a conversation some said needs to happen sooner than later.

"I think the American people need to get sick of two elderly white males being our only choice," Marie Barber from Mt. Pleasant said. "I think [it would take] the Republican Party saying, 'OK, it's time for somebody other than an 80-year-old white male to run the country.'"

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event at The North Charleston Coliseum on Wednesday.
Sean Rayford / AP
/
AP
Haley speaks during a campaign event at The North Charleston Coliseum on Wednesday.

Barber said Haley is primed to reach left-leaning voters who may be unhappy with Biden, and worries that Trump's personality won't do the same, calling him a "tough sell" because of his personality. She added that some people in her circle would consider voting third party if Trump were the nominee.

Sarah Ferrillo said Haley was a fantastic governor with the right combination of executive and international relations experience from her time as United Nations Ambassador, but said she didn't know what could be done to convince more primary voters to support Haley over Trump's bad publicity.

"I don't know from a political standpoint what you need to do or what you need to say to get people to stop and turn and listen, because right now, they're responding to the loudest person in the room," she said. "How can you be the loudest without being the bad publicity?"

Both women said they would vote for Trump if he were the nominee because they could not support Biden.

'We're going to fight'

Therein lies the challenge for Haley's campaign in the coming month — moderate and independent voters that pulled her closer to Trump in New Hampshire are not as prevalent in the next slate of contests, including South Carolina's very conservative electorate.

Recent polls show Haley far behind Trump in her home state, and the former president has touted a slew of endorsements from local South Carolina legislators, current Gov. Henry McMaster and Sen. Tim Scott in a show of force meant to push her out of the race.

But Haley is forging ahead.

Haley said Wednesday her campaign brought in a million dollars from more than 200,000 donors from every state in the day since the New Hampshire primary, and several more rallies are planned across the Palmetto State in the coming days.

In many ways, Haley's post-New Hampshire message aims to serve as a preemptive "I told you so" to Republicans if Trump loses in November, while also pushing back on assertions that the primary race is over, blasting "political elites" that say Trump should have the nomination already.

"We've only had two states that have voted, we've got 48 more that deserve to vote," she said. "A presidential candidate has to get 1,215 delegates: Donald Trump has 32 and I have 17. So we are not going to sit there and just give up. We're going to sit there and we're going to fight because Americans deserve better than what they have in these two options. And we're going to give it to them."

On paper, the delegates earned from Iowa and New Hampshire represent a tiny fraction of the 1,215 needed to secure the Republican nomination, and a memo from Haley's campaign Tuesday outlined a focus on being competitive in contests through Super Tuesday on March 5, where more than a dozen contests will take place worth nearly 900 delegates.

But for now, Haley trails in national and state-level polls and runs the risk of not earning delegates in some states, falling further behind Trump and potentially delaying his victory until later this spring.

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

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Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.