By James Oliphant, Susan Heavey
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) -Nikki Haley made it clear to New Hampshire voters on Friday: She won't serve as former President Donald Trump's vice president if he wins the Republican nomination.
Haley, who's challenging Trump for the Republican presidential nod, has long said she won't "play for second." But in touring the independent-leaning state this week, she explicitly ruled out being a running mate in November, media reports said.
"I don’t want to be anybody’s vice president. That is off the table," Haley told voters at a diner stop in Amherst, New Hampshire on Friday, Politico and the Washington Post reported.
"I have always said that. That is a game they play that I’m not going to play. I don’t want to be vice president," Haley added, according to the Post.
Haley, who served as Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, is barnstorming New Hampshire ahead of its Tuesday contest and further distancing herself from Trump in a state known for a more moderate brand of Republicanism. Its semi-open primary can also draw more centrist voters, who may be turned off by Trump's criminal charges, increasingly authoritarian language and efforts to overturn his 2020 re-election loss.
She must close the gap in Republicans' second primary contest to have any chance at thwarting Trump's momentum after his decisive win in Iowa's caucus on Monday.
Only Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has largely written off New Hampshire to challenge Haley in her home state of South Carolina, remains in the three-way contest for the nomination to challenge Democrat Joe Biden in November.
Earlier this month, Trump said he knows who his running mate will be if he wins the nomination but declined to name anyone.
Here is other news from the campaign trail:
SCOTT 'EXCITED' FOR TRUMP
Haley faced a blow from her home state on Friday, with fellow South Carolinian Tim Scott, a U.S. senator first nominated by Haley, poised to back Trump.
"Oh man. I'm so excited for the announcement tonight," Scott said in a video taken in front of a Trump-marked plane and posted on X. "Let's talk about four more years."
"New Hampshire here we come!" he wrote.
Scott, who had also challenged Trump for the Republican Party's nomination but ended his campaign last year, will endorse his former rival at a rally Friday night in Concord, a source told Reuters.
As South Carolina governor, Haley tapped then U.S. Representative Scott to fill a Senate vacancy in 2012.
"Tim Scott wouldn’t have a job without Nikki Haley," New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican backing Haley, said in a Fox News interview on Friday, according to the Washington Post.
"Nobody cares," Sununu said of the endorsement as he chatted with restaurant patrons in Milford, the New York Times reported.
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
DeSantis would like the people of New Hampshire to know something: He’s still here.
The Florida governor called a press conference on Friday at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, amid reports that he was abandoning the state.
Polls show DeSantis lagging way behind Trump and Haley ahead of Tuesday’s primary. He has events scheduled on Saturday in South Carolina, which holds a primary next month, and his campaign hasn’t said if he’ll return to New Hampshire.
He chose St. Anselm because it was supposed to host a debate this week, but both Trump and Haley declined to participate, further cutting off DeSantis’ political oxygen.
DeSantis was asked if thought he could still win the nomination.
"As long as I’m in the hunt, that tells me that I’m seeing a pathway," he said. "The minute I don’t, I’m not going to do this just for my health."
If Friday was DeSantis’ farewell to the New Hampshire media, he left an impression. The press conference was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. – outside in the winter cold. Reporters, along with a few die-hard supporters, stood and waited, shivering, for DeSantis to arrive.
The windchill was 12 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 11 Celsius). Some supporters gave up and trickled off, followed by a few members of the media.
"It’s not that cold. It’s not too too bad," said Katherine Prudhomme O’Brien, 53, of Derry, holding a DeSantis sign. She was jumping up and down to keep herself warm.
"He’s lost my vote!" one attendee shouted, and the crowd laughed.
Finally, after nearly an hour, DeSantis’ car rolled up and he bounded out without a winter coat, looking like he had just flown in from Tallahassee.
He took a handful of questions and then abruptly cut off the session after about 10 minutes. The crowd groaned.
A minute later, he was gone – off to a town hall in Nashua. Presumably indoors.
STANDING UP FOR JOE
Meanwhile, New Hampshire voters will offer a glimpse into Biden's re-election efforts next week — even if his name's not on the ballot.
Biden shunned the state's primary contest after it ignored demands to cede its early spot in the campaign calendar to South Carolina, a more populated and diverse state the party has sought to boost along with Nevada.
While the Democratic National Committee has said the New Hampshire contest effectively won’t count, residents can still write his name in on the ballot.
"We've got to stand up for Joe Biden," said David Watters, a write-in advocate and Democratic state senator in New Hampshire.
Democratic longshots Dean Phillips, a Minnesota congressman, and self-help author Marianne Williamson are seeking to challenge Biden.
Elliot and Edith Smith, a married couple, plan to vote for Biden in the state’s primary - but not enthusiastically, citing concerns about the 81-year-old's age.
"I am disgusted with both parties, but we can’t elect Trump," said Elliot Smith. "I’m a Democrat, but would consider other Republicans like Haley or Christie in the general election, but there’s no chance they can beat Trump."
(Reporting by Gram Slattery and James Oliphant in New Hampsthire, and Steve Holland and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington; writing by James Oliphant and Susan HeaveyEditing by Colleen Jenkins)