Biden steps up efforts to court Haley voters

President Biden’s campaign is doubling down on courting former Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s supporters, targeting a potential weak spot for former President Trump going into the general election.

Haley’s supporters and Trump’s critics have pointed to the 40 percent of the vote she won in the South Carolina primary as evidence of cracks in Trump’s Republican base of support.

The Biden campaign has released ads and statements targeting the group of voters, and while it’s unclear whether the president will be able to flip the majority of them, Republicans say it’s plausible that Haley backers could be swayed or even sit the election out.

“A move by the Biden campaign right now to court those voters is a smart move on their part,” said Dave Wilson, a South Carolina-based GOP strategist. “The question is will they be able to appeal their entire message to that audience to get them to switch parties.”

As soon as Haley dropped out of the GOP primary, the Biden campaign activated its strategy to try to get her supporters into Biden’s camp.

“Donald Trump made it clear he doesn’t want Nikki Haley’s supporters. I want to be clear: There is a place for them in my campaign,” Biden said in a statement last month.

Last week, the Biden campaign released a 30-second ad featuring clips of Trump criticizing Haley during the GOP primary, with the warning, “If you voted for Nikki Haley, Donald Trump doesn’t want your vote.”

The campaign also released a statement arguing that Trump has been clear that voters who aren’t part of MAGA aren’t welcome in his camp.

“Donald Trump has made it clear he’s not remotely interested in reaching out to independents, moderates or Nikki Haley supporters who he’s driven away with his extreme, unpopular agenda and his pledge to be a dictator on day one,” Biden campaign senior spokesperson Sarafina Chitika told The Hill. “President Biden, meanwhile, is meeting voters where they are and making it clear that all are welcome in his coalition to protect our freedoms and our democracy this November.”

John LaBombard, former communications director to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), sees an opening for Biden with more moderate Republicans, especially if he can lean into his moderate roots.

“The White House’s tendency to lurch leftward in its first few years, including sometimes hostile rhetoric toward moderate members of the president’s own party, won’t help this effort feel authentic, but the chaos surrounding former President Trump and his campaign has given President Biden a huge opening to make a play for Nikki Haley’s voters,” LaBombard said.

“He won’t win all of them, but if President Biden can call back to his pre-White House roots as a consensus-builder who doesn’t demonize those he disagrees with, and if he can stay laser-focused on issues that broadly appeal to winnable voters rather than just the progressive base, he could peel off just enough Republican voters to prove decisive in the handful of states that will sway the election,” added LaBombard, a senior vice president at ROKK Solutions.

The Biden campaign has been making a point to note that Trump hasn’t called Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, since she dropped out. Meanwhile, Haley did not endorse the former president when she left the race the day after Super Tuesday and has not hinted at what role she will play as November draws closer.

Other Republicans are seeking to flip the script on the narrative that Trump needs Haley supporters, arguing that many of them had backed Biden in 2020.

An Emerson College poll released last month found that 52 percent of Haley supporters voted for Biden in 2020. The same survey found that 63 percent of Haley supporters said they backed Biden after Haley ended her presidential bid, while only 27 percent said they would vote for Trump.

“Getting [Haley supporters] back is far more important for Biden than it is for Trump,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “I think that’s something that a lot of people miss.”

O’Connell added that Haley’s supporters who did not support Biden previously are more likely to switch back to Trump.

“The ones who aren’t Democrats or Never Trumpers are going to come home to Trump,” O’Connell said, citing concerns over the economy and the border.

Other Republicans aren’t as sure how much of an impact Haley’s supporters will have on either candidate.

“I don’t think we know yet what that number is to consider it a success,” said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist. “If you’re one of those people who was wearing a ‘permanently banned’ T-shirt, are you going to feel permanently banned come November?” he added, referring to Haley’s capitalizing on Trump’s threats to permanently ban her supporters from the MAGA camp.

Trump’s allies also pointed to Trump effectively locking up the Republican nomination by March, winning 72 percent of the GOP primary electorate. Haley earned 24 percent in total.

The former president’s campaign in a statement responded to Biden’s move to court Haley voters by saying Biden is “hemorrhaging” support from key parts of his base.

“No amount of gaslighting from the Biden campaign can make voters forget Biden’s Bloodbath he has brought all across America — from the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal costing American lives, record number of illegals crossing the border to kill Americans, making America less safe with a feckless foreign policy, and allowing rampant crime to explode in cities,” said Steven Cheung, Trump’s communications director.

“Biden is hemorrhaging support from Black voters, Hispanic voters, and almost every other part of his base because of his disastrous policies and failed presidency.”

Meanwhile, Biden officials have also highlighted Trump’s rhetoric that they think pushes Haley voters away, including the various times Trump has criticized Haley by calling her “birdbrain” and “not presidential material.”

They’ve also shared a quote from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who said on his podcast last month, “Screw Nikki Haley — we don’t need her endorsement.”

Biden’s campaign has been heavily investing in battleground states, after swing-state voters and independents were so critical to the president’s 2020 victory. The campaign spent $30 million in six weeks on ads in battleground states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia.

Michael LaRosa, former spokesperson to first lady Jill Biden and special assistant to the president, said the president’s cash advantage gives his campaign the ability to target Haley voters.

“They’re flush with so much cash, so of course it makes sense to try and go after those voters. They’re not going to leave potential votes on the table,” LaRosa said. “Every vote will make a difference in those states that are won on the margins and where I expect Kennedy or Stein to pick off support as well.”

Biden’s campaign operation raised roughly $53 million in February, for a total of $155 million in cash on hand entering March. At the end of March, the campaign raised $26 million in one night during a fundraiser in New York City.

Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign brought in $10.9 million last month, while his joint fundraising committee raised nearly $11 million. The campaign has about $42 million in cash on hand.

But strategists say Haley and other anti-Trump Republicans would be best suited to convince their supporters to back Biden, rather than the president himself.

“They will make that case better than Biden will,” Heye said.

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