NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Despite losing both Iowa and New Hampshire to Donald Trump,Nikki Haley is nevertheless trying to frame those losses as a victory and vowing to head off a “coronation” of Trump as the 2024 Republican nominee.
The path through the next states to vote, however, may not be any easier.
“We were thrilled,” Haley said during a rally before hundreds of sign-waving fans on Wednesday night in North Charleston, South Carolina, casting her second-place New Hampshire finish as a win given how little support her campaign had in its early days.
“We got out there, and we did our thing and we said what we had to say, and then Donald Trump got out there and just threw a temper tantrum," Haley added, referencing Trump's primary night remarks in which the former president repeatedly insulted her in a speech far angrier than his remarks after his Iowa victory.
Haley did perform better in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary than she had in the Iowa caucuses a week earlier, where she finished third, well behind Trump and only slightly down from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has since shuttered his campaign.
But Haley had been banking on a stalwart showing in New Hampshire, a state where her attempt to appeal to independents and more moderate-leaning Republicans appeared to take root. Trump still won by double-digits on Tuesday night, leaving some to wonder whether she would keep going.
Haley has affirmed that she will do just that, speaking virtually to Republican voters in the U.S. Virgin Islands — which hold their caucuses Feb. 8 — before flying from New Hampshire to South Carolina.
The Wednesday night event served two purposes for Haley. It was a welcome-home gathering for the South Carolina resident and an opener for her campaign in the first-in-the-South GOP voting state, which has historically been influential in determining the party's nominee. Since 1980, only one winner of South Carolina's Republican balloting has lost the nomination.
Since his 2016 primary win there helped cement Trump's dominance in that year's race, South Carolina has stayed loyal to him. For the 2024 campaign, he boasts endorsements from all but one of the state's U.S. House Republicans, as well as the governor, lieutenant governor and both U.S. senators.
“Trump is in a commanding position in South Carolina," one of those senators, Lindsey Graham, said Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol, commending Haley's effort but forecasting her loss in their home state. “I think for all practical purposes, the primary is over.”
Outside Haley's rally, several dozen Trump supporters waved flags and made their presence known, albeit from a marked-off zone away from the ballroom entrance.
Ahead of New Hampshire's vote, the super PAC supporting Haley’s candidacy was quick to point out that President Joe Biden, the Democrat she hopes to face in the general election, hadn’t been successful in the first several contests of his 2020 bid, but ultimately won the nomination.
That comparison, however, doesn't take into account the fact that Black voters propelled Biden's ultimate victory once he reached the South, a factor not expected to weigh heavily in the GOP primary.
Nonetheless, during a call with reporters on Wednesday, Mark Harris, chief strategist for that super PAC, SFA Inc., insisted that Haley “has a path” to the GOP nomination, regardless of Trump’s two early wins.
Casting South Carolina as the campaign's next “battleground" of the Trump-Haley direct matchup — Nevada's GOP caucuses are Feb. 8, but Trump has already claimed victory there since Haley isn't participating — Harris noted that its open primary means that any Democrats who opt not to participate in their party’s Feb. 3 contest can choose to support Haley in the Feb. 24 vote.
“We’re going to do everything we can to encourage those conservative-leaning and Republican-leaning independents to vote in the primary,” Harris said, noting that the super PAC would join the campaign in running “millions of dollars” in TV ads in South Carolina over the next month, also sending out mailers, knocking on doors and doing other outreach.
Asked about conversations with donors after the New Hampshire results, Harris said that the group was confident that it would have the necessary resources.
“Our donors have been in this for the long haul," Harris said. ”Our strategy was to narrow the field by two by South Carolina."
He said he was encouraged by the enthusiasm he was seeing.
"People are jazzed up, and I’m very confident we’ll have the resources we need to continue to fight.”
As she wrapped Wednesday night's rally, Haley said she had raised $1 million since giving her post-primary speech in New Hampshire the night before, money she said had come in from all 50 states, and the vast majority of which was donations of $200 or less.
After Haley's event, Trump posted to his social media platform an intimidating remark to any of his opponent's donors.
“Anybody that makes a 'Contribution' to Birdbrain, from this moment forth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp," Trump wrote, using the nickname he has crafted for Haley and the abbreviation for his “Make America Great Again” slogan. "We don’t want them, and will not accept them, because we Put America First, and ALWAYS WILL!”
As he waited for Haley, North Charleston resident Sammy Penniger said he identified with the underdog persona that the candidate often ascribes to herself.
“She said last night, ‘I’m not going to give up,'” the 25-year-old said, referencing Haley's post-New Hampshire primary comments. “I kind of love that fighter mentality — that's inspiring for a young person like me.”
Rick Gentilo in Washington contributed.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP