MANCHESTER, N.H. — Nikki Haley is looking to beat the odds in New Hampshire on Tuesday as she gets the one-on-one contest with former President Trump she’s long relished in the Republican presidential primary.
The Hill’s Decision Desk HQ average shows Haley trailing Trump 47.6 percent to 35.9 percent in New Hampshire, underlining the difficult race she faces even with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis now out of the race.
But the former ambassador’s campaign says it is seeing momentum following DeSantis’s Sunday exit, raising more than $500,000 in the 24 hours after he dropped out.
Her team is signaling it plans to push forward toward South Carolina even with a second-place finish in New Hampshire, which could set up a battle in the former governor’s home state.
Haley’s campaign announced Saturday that it will launch a $4 million ad buy in the Palmetto State a day after the New Hampshire primary. The ad buy will cover all seven of South Carolina’s media markets.
In a memo released Monday, the pro-Haley PAC SFA Inc. argued that the news media and political class are underestimating the last real GOP opponent to Trump in the race.
“This race is FAR from over, but you wouldn’t know that if you turned the channel to Fox News or CNN. Despite a constant drumbeat of proclaiming their so-called hate of Donald Trump, the media cannot get enough of him,” the memo read.
“Between the wall-to-wall coverage of everything he does and their overzealousness to call the 2024 race for the GOP over after the Iowa Caucus — despite Trump’s mediocre night (by an incumbent’s standards) amid low turnout for Iowans, it’s clear Washington and New York has a vested interest in wanting to crown Trump the GOP’s candidate.”
Haley echoed this sentiment while campaigning throughout the Granite State on the eve of the primary.
“I have watched the entire political elite, yesterday and today, I’ve watched the entire media elite, yesterday and today, say that I should drop out for the good of the country to support Donald Trump,” Haley told supporters.
Haley’s allies have also argued in the day since DeSantis exited the race that many of the Florida governor’s supporters will gravitate toward her, pointing out that DeSantis’s supporters were looking for a Trump alternative and Haley is the only Trump alternative left standing.
However, that dynamic has yet to play out in polling. According to a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll published Sunday, 62 percent of DeSantis supporters said they would support Trump as their second-choice candidate, while only 30 percent of DeSantis supporters said the same about Haley.
DeSantis endorsed Trump in the same video in which he ended his campaign and accused Haley of representing “the old Republican guard of yesteryear” and “a repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism.”
Dan Eberhart, a DeSantis donor, called the theory that the governor’s supporters would gravitate toward Haley “a false narrative.”
“Ron DeSantis was running to be a drama-free Trump or a more consistent conservative,” Eberhart said. “Nikki Haley is more drama-free, but center-right and not MAGA.”
“That’s wishful thinking,” he added.
At a packed get-out-the-vote rally at the VFW in Franklin, N.H., Haley’s supporters expressed optimism one day out from the primary.
“I think she’s going to do well,” said Cindy Hess, a New Hampshire Haley supporter. “Even if Mr. DeSantis was still in the running, I do believe Nikki’s got the momentum going to do a great job tomorrow.”
Cathy Kubec, a Haley supporter in nearby Sanbornton, N.H., described what she sees a “groundswell” for Haley in the state.
“I think it’s going to be very close,” Kubec said. “When I talk to people, I think people are so tired of Trump talking at people.”
Peter Slaton, who decided to support Haley in recent weeks, appeared to temper his expectations when asked if he thinks Haley can win.
“There’s a chance,” he said. “I just hope that she does well and if it’s not successful, that somehow she is able to have the funding and that’s what it all comes down to.”
Still, even Haley allies acknowledge that a win in New Hampshire — hardly a sure thing — does not guarantee a favorable outcome in South Carolina, where she is well behind Trump in polls.
“While I wouldn’t encourage her to drop out, and would love to see her continue the fight to the convention, it’s going to be hard to expect to win South Carolina without winning New Hampshire,” said Alex Stroman, a South Carolina-based Republican strategist.
“I think a close second probably opens the lane for her to continue ahead for her donors as a backup in case his legal troubles continue to catch up with him,” he continued.