On the trail: Haley returns to New England ahead of Super Tuesday

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Bloomington, Minn. (AP Photo/Adam Bettcher)

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Bloomington, Minn. (AP Photo/Adam Bettcher) Adam Bettcher

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Monitor

Published: 03-01-2024 12:00 PM

Nikki Haley returns to New England this weekend, in a very different situation than when she left New Hampshire five and a half weeks ago.

Haley, the last remaining challenger to former President Donald Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination, campaigns Saturday in Massachusetts, with stops Sunday in Vermont and Maine. New Hampshire’s neighbors are among the 15 states that hold Republican presidential contests on what’s known as Super Tuesday, which this election cycle falls on Tuesday March 5.

New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary was the first in the 2024 GOP nomination race that ended up being a one-on-one battle between Trump, the commanding Republican front-runner, and Haley, after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended his White House bid two days ahead of the primary. Haley, a former two-term South Carolina governor who later served as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, grabbed 43% of the vote in the Granite State, 11 points behind Trump.

But that was her high point to date.

Two weeks later she resoundingly lost to ‘none of these candidates’ in Nevada’s low turnout GOP presidential primary, a contest that she ignored and where Trump was not on the ballot. And she was soundly defeated by the former president in the U.S. Virgin Islands Republican caucus.

This past weekend, Haley lost by 20 points to Trump in her home state of South Carolina, followed by a more than 40-point deficit to Trump on Tuesday in Michigan.

Haley repeatedly emphasized in recent weeks that she would continue to campaign through Super Tuesday, regardless of her finish in her home state.

“I said earlier this week that no matter what happens in South Carolina, I will continue to run for office,” Haley said in her primary night speech last weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. “I am a woman of my word.”

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And on Wednesday, during a campaign stop in Utah, which also votes on March 5, Haley highlighted that “we’re focused on the Super Tuesday states going forward. I’m not going to stop when 70% of Americans say they don’t want Donald Trump or Joe Biden. We’re going to give them an option.”

Nearly 800 delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday, and over 150 will be at stake over the ensuing two weeks. Among the states holding contests on Super Tuesday are delegate-rich California and Texas, and other big states like Florida, Illinois and Ohio will hold winner-take-all primaries on March 19.

Polling in many of those states indicates Trump holding large leads over Haley. But Haley’s campaign notes that 11 of the 16 Super Tuesday contests aren’t limited to registered Republicans – including New Hampshire’s three neighbors, where independents can vote in the GOP presidential primaries.

Haley Campaign manager Betsy Ankeny in a recent memo highlighted that the upcoming open primaries contain “significant fertile ground for Nikki.”

Independents helped fuel Haley’s strong showing in New Hampshire. But while independent voters have long played a crucial and influential role in the Granite State’s White House primary, they were much less of a factor in South Carolina’s more conservative electorate, where evangelical voters enjoy prominence in GOP contests.

Trump and his allies have repeatedly blasted Haley over the courting of independents and even some cross-over Democrats.

But Haley has pushed back, saying recently that “we’re fighting for the Republican primary, but there are a lot of independents who left the Republican Party because of Donald Trump. We are pulling them back. … We’re pulling Reagan Democrats back. And Republicans need to remember this is not about pushing people out of our party. And that’s why I do well with everybody, not just Republicans, not just independents.”

Regardless, Super Tuesday is almost certain to move the former president much closer to clinching the nomination. And the Trump campaign predicted in a recent memo that the former president would secure the nomination on March 19, even under a “most-generous model” for Haley.

While Haley recently told this reporter “let’s see if that happens, she’s also been careful not to spell out any plans for post-Super Tuesday.