Two Republican presidential debates have been scrapped Wednesday after candidates Nikki Haley and frontrunner Donald Trump refused to take part ahead of next week’s hotly contested New Hampshire primary.
ABC and CNN both canceled their planned debates after Haley announced she would no longer participate unless Trump does. Since the former president has said he won’t debate at all, that left would’ve left only Ron DeSantis on the debate stage.
The debate drama came as Haley tries to make up ground on Trump in the Granite State after he notched a commanding win in the Iowa caucus on Monday.
A new tracking poll released Wednesday put Trump at 50% among potential GOP primary voters compared to 34% for Haley and just 5% for DeSantis.
Haley has been rising in polls for months but may have hit her high watermark after failing to overtake DeSantis and finishing third in Iowa.
Haley has targeted New Hampshire as her best shot at beating Trump because it boasts an electorate with many moderate and independent-minded voters.
Independents and even Democrats can also participate in Tuesday’s primary, potentially giving her a fighting chance against Trump.
Haley was barnstorming the state with popular Gov. Chris Sununu Wednesday aiming to keep the pressure on Trump, who was in New York appearing at his sex assault and defamation trial.
Trump also plans to campaign in New Hampshire although he is expected to leave the campaign trail to attend a funeral for the mother of his wife, Melania, on Thursday.
He launched a nasty onslaught against Haley on social media Wednesday, even comparing her to Hillary Clinton.
DeSantis has shifted most of his campaign staff to South Carolina and is campaigning there this week.
Polls are not predicting a blowout for Trump like he engineered in Iowa, but he appears to be on course for a solid win in New Hampshire.
If Trump does win New Hampshire, he would solidify his status as the overwhelming favorite for his third straight GOP nomination with wins in two very different GOP electorates.
He would head into a month-long stretch before South Carolina primary with even more political wind at his back.
Haley hopes to pull off a stunning upset in New Hampshire then feed on a month of stories questioning Trump’s invincibility leading up to South Carolina on Feb. 24.
She would still face daunting odds of making any sort of national race against Trump, who leads by huge margins in the states that vote on Super Tuesday on March 5.
Both DeSantis and Haley may hope that Trump is tripped up by some new crisis, perhaps stemming from his four criminal trials on 91 felony counts. But so far there is little sign of anything denting his durable popularity with the conservative base of the GOP that calls the shots in the primary race.