DANIEL ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - GOP Presidential hopeful Nikki Haley held a rally on Daniel Island Sunday night insisting she is staying in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
The former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador spoke to cheering supporters at the New Realm Brewing Company. Sunday’s rally follows similar stops in last week in Columbia, Hilton Head, Lancaster and Daniel’s Island. Her campaign is called “It’s A Great Day in South Carolina.”
Haley crisscrossed the Palmetto State, with her focus on what marks a successful path to progress.
“We want the other 48 states and territories to show the power of their voice. And let me tell you something, I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “We started out with 14 candidates [in the 2024 race]. And we’ve ticked off one at a time. A dozen of those fellows are gone, and I’ve just got one fellow left.”
She insisted electing “a new generational leader” is the only way to win the majority of Americans.
“I voted for Donald Trump twice. I was proud to serve America in his administration. But chaos follows him. Y’all know I’m right: chaos follows him. And we can’t be a country in disarray in a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive,” Haley said. “There will be a female president of the United States. The hard truth is it will either be me or Kamala Harris.”
Haley emphasized creating strong leaders out of strong women, transparency in education and the focus on mental competency in office – something that resonated with young voters.
“Her journey and how empowering she is, like they said,” Haley supporter Cecily Weiss said. “Being able to see, if she becomes the first woman president, it’s so cool it was in my lifetime.”
“We have all these presidents who are older, but it’s nice to have someone newer, stronger, who relates to all generations,” Haley supporter Declan Weiss said.
Haley also spoke on immigration policy, veteran support and economic wellbeing. Families who attended said Haley’s involvement in her home state and in communities of all ages were what stood out to them.
“It’s good to have someone, especially from South Carolina, to help people love South Carolina,” Haley supporter Kelley Crawford said.
“As a father, a grandfather, it starts with the kids, with the children,” Haley supporter David Wurtz said. “The way she focuses on how far our children have fallen behind in the world and we need them to catch up.”
Haley also touted poll results showing she beats Biden in head-to-head polls by a greater margin than Trump.
As she prepares for the Republican primaries coming up at the end of this month, she spoke about some of her successes as Governor and what people can expect if she were elected President.
“We need a little change at this point in our country’s life,” voter David Wertz said. “There are some things going on out there as Nikki said the world is on fire and we need someone to help squash it.”
She discussed topics such as parents having more of a decision in their child’s education, better veteran health care, fentanyl issues and moving forward with a new generational leader.
Haley mentioned that both Trump and Biden are tied up in investigations and only talk about themselves. She also questioned their ability to get the job done due to them both being in their 80s.
Former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley told supporters Sunday night why she thinks she's a better nominee for president than Donald Trump.
Still, many believe she faces an uphill battle to win the GOP nomination.
A Washington Post-Monmouth University poll on Thursday found Trump with a 26-point lead in South Carolina.
But she’s vowing to stay in the race indefinitely, backed by thousands of committed donors, a key slice of the party’s moderate wing and a new willingness to attack the mental fitness and legal baggage of 2024 Republican front-runner Donald Trump. And the harder Haley fights, the more Republican officials fear she may hurt his long-term prospects in the all-but-certain general election ahead against Democratic President Joe Biden.
Former Trump adviser David Urban described Haley’s continued presence as a distraction, a drain on resources and a source of frustration.
“Nobody on Trump’s team thinks (a Biden matchup) is going to be easy. It’s going to be a bumpy road. It’s going to be a tough race. They want to hit the starter’s pistol and get going,” Urban said. “People need to start coming together and working together. But right now, none of that is happening because she’s still out there stoking the anti-Trump fire.”
Haley decided to skip Nevada’s presidential caucuses next Thursday in favor of a state primary election two days earlier that does not award delegates. Trump could embarrass Haley in her home state of South Carolina later in the month, where the former president has a loyal following.
Yet in practical terms — and in Haley’s calculus — the GOP primary has barely begun. Just two states have voted so far in a process that will ultimately span all 50 before concluding at the GOP’s national nominating convention in July.
“I am not going anywhere,” she told reporters on Thursday. “We have a country to save. And I am determined to keep on going the entire way. As long as we can keep closing that gap, I’m gonna keep staying in.”
Such comments increasingly draw Trump’s ire as he’s eager to move past the primary completely and focus on Biden. At roughly the same time Haley was speaking, Trump was attacking her on social media. One post he shared, “Nikki Haley is bought and paid for by our political enemies,” and another described Haley as “deeply disliked” by a growing number of Americans.
Some Republicans worry that Trump’s preoccupation with Haley, whom he frequently calls “birdbrain,” might further alienate moderate voters and suburban women.
Haley’s assets growing
Haley, by some measures, is gaining strength. Her campaign has raised $5 million from small-dollar donors in the days since she finished in second place in New Hampshire, according to spokesperson Nachama Soloveichik. She’s also in the midst of a four-state fundraising tour that will feature at least 10 closed-door events with wealthy donors. This week’s initial swing through New York netted more than $1.5 million, Soloveichik said.
Republican fundraiser Eric Levine, who co-hosted one of the New York events, said the few hundred Haley donors who gathered earlier in the week “remain as committed to Haley as ever.”
Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankney highlighted the candidate’s commitment to the race during a meeting with some of the GOP’s leading donors earlier in the week in Florida, according to two Republican officials in the room granted anonymity to share private discussions. Trump senior adviser Susie Wiles also delivered a presentation to the group, which was designed to highlight the former president’s tightening grip on the nomination.
Many major donors remain critical of Trump, but some of the biggest would-be Haley supporters are essentially in a holding pattern ahead of South Carolina’s Feb. 24 primary. They believe she is essentially fully funded for the rest of the month and there’s little more they can do in the short term, according to the officials.
Two of the group’s founders, billionaire hedge fund managers Ken Griffin and Paul Singer, each donated $5 million to Haley’s 2024 bid in recent weeks, according to federal filings made public this week.
Trump also continues to report strong fundraising totals. But his legal troubles are consuming a huge portion of his donors’ dollars.
Two of Trump’s political action committees spent roughly $50 million in donor funds on the former president’s legal fees last year, according to federal filings made public this week. And his legal costs are continuing to grow.
Haley takes an aggressive strategy
Haley has begun to ratchet up attacks against Trump, a deliberate strategy designed to highlight the former president’s glaring liabilities, including his legal baggage and his age.
The campaign lumped Trump and Biden together in a new attack ad this week calling them “Grumpy Old Men.” She’s also working to link the 77-year-old Trump’s refusal to debate to questions about his mental acuity. And in a Wednesday interview on the “Breakfast Club” radio program, she blamed Trump for the state of the nation’s politics.
“He’s made it chaotic,” she said. “He’s made it self-absorbed.”
Her message appears to be resonating with a key group of swing voters who play a pivotal role in general elections.
In New Hampshire’s recent primary, for example, Trump won a decisive victory against Haley backed by his popularity among traditional Republican voters. But he lost a majority of moderates and about two-thirds of those who identify as independents, according to AP VoteCast. He also lost about 6 in 10 who have college degrees, and he’s shown a persistent vulnerability among voters living in suburbs.
But the Republican base is still decidedly behind Trump. And a growing group of Republican elected officials on Capitol Hill are calling for Haley to quit the race. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said recently that it was time to unite behind Trump.
B.J. Hopper, an 81-year-old self-described “Never Trumper,” is doubtful that Haley will catch Trump, but she attended Thursday’s stop in South Carolina’s capital city because she’s trying to be hopeful.
“It’d be a miracle,” Hopper said of a Haley victory in the state’s upcoming primary.
As much of the attention shifts to South Carolina, Haley’s campaign insists her goal there isn’t to win, but simply to show growth compared to New Hampshire. She’s building campaign infrastructure in next-up Michigan and several states that host primary contests on March 5, also known as “Super Tuesday.”
Meanwhile, other Republican operatives believe Haley’s continued candidacy creates unnecessary risks for the notoriously undisciplined Trump.
“The longer she hangs around and the more Trump focuses on her, the greater likelihood you get unforced errors,” Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said. “She’s giving ammunition to Biden’s campaign.”
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