Anti-Trump Republicans pin their hopes on Nikki Haley

Retiree Reggie Alt delivered a seven-page handwritten memo detailing her ideas on how to defeat former President Trump to one of former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s aides.

He then took Haley’s hands and offered the Republican presidential candidate some Star Wars-related advice:

“Think of Obi-Wan Kenobi. You are our only hope,” the 68-year-old Algona resident told Haley.

At a recent campaign event in Spirit Lake, Iowa, Nikki Haley supporter Reggie Alt, 68 (right), told the candidate: “Think of Obi-Wan Kenobi. You are our only hope,”

Haley laughed and hugged the former receptionist.

Haley needs the support of caucusgoers like Alt, an independent voter who said she has supported presidential candidates from both parties for the past half-century, if she hopes to reduce former President Trump’s huge lead in state and national polls ahead of the caucuses. of Iowa this month. . A strong showing by her in the Jan. 15 election could better position her to wrest her party’s nomination from her former boss.

“Haley has a great chance” if Trump’s campaign collapses, said Dianne Bystrom, director emeritus of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. “She’s a candidate who checks all the boxes: She’s a very good communicator.” , a very skilled debater, has excellent television commercials and is strong and eloquent.”

Nikki Haley campaigns in a converted barn

Nikki Haley speaks to a packed room at Okoboji Barn in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

Haley is enjoying something of a boom. His poll numbers have risen in recent weeks, his events are attended by larger crowds, he has recruited prominent donors and sponsors, and a recent Wall Street Journal poll showed that he beat President Biden by 17 percentage points in a hypothetical race: the biggest margin for any Republican Candidate in the field. Increased scrutiny followed, including Haley’s failure to mention slavery as a cause of the Civil War during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last week.

Their prospects of actually making it to the general election still look bleak. Trump leads Haley and the rest of the Republican party in national and state polls, including in South Carolina, where she was governor for six years. The focus of a recent campaign letter praising “Haley’s Week of Wins” was a Fox News headline asking whether New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s endorsement of Haley would “make a dent in Trump’s huge lead.” in the presidential primaries of the Republican Party.”

Aside from dubbing Haley “brain,” Trump and his allies largely ignored her until recent weeks. Last month, a super PAC backing the former president launched a television ad in New Hampshire that misrepresents her record as governor on a state gas tax. The ad shows a video of Haley saying she opposed such a tax and then saying she supported one, while omitting that she said she would only support such a measure if the state’s income tax rates were reduced by 2%. .

As Haley’s prominence has grown, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, once considered Trump’s chief Republican rival, and his allies have attacked the former ambassador for being beholden to Wall Street, questioning her conservative bona fides. and slandered her tenure as governor.

But neutral observers argue that if everything goes wrong for Haley, her path to the Republican nomination will be narrow.


The shoes of a supporter of the former and current UN ambassador


Merchandise for the former UN ambassador and current Republican


Merchandise for Nikki Haley


A row of chairs with Nikki Haley posters propped on them.

1. The shoes of a supporter of presidential candidate Nikki Haley next to a campaign sign. 2. Nikki Haley campaign materials. 3. Fans have a wide variety of clothing adorned with Nikki Haley slogans. 4. Nikki Haley signs are pre-positioned for supporters at a campaign stop in Iowa for the Republican presidential candidate.

“If he finishes strong in Iowa, and strong, I would say second place ahead of DeSantis… he may be able to come to New Hampshire and say, ‘Look, New Hampshire, it’s me or Trump,'” Dante Scala said . professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

The author of “Stormy Weather: The New Hampshire Primary and Presidential Politics” said Haley has an advantage in the Live Free and Die state over the other Republicans running.

“He’s found a niche in New Hampshire among moderate voters, independents, people who have serious doubts about Donald Trump and don’t want him to be the candidate again,” Scala said, adding that those voters are also drawn to the governor of New Hampshire. Sweater. .Chris Christie’s candidacy, but he finds Haley more pleasant.

A poll of likely voters released by Saint Anselm College last month found Haley was rising in the state, earning 30% support to Trump’s 44%. Haley doubled his support since the last poll, while the former president remained stable. Christie trailed with 12%, and the rest of the Republican party fell further behind.


Nikki Haley talks to a man wearing an American flag headdress.


Nikki Haley poses for a photo holding a baby and standing between two men

1. Kevin Boyens, 67, of Everly, Iowa, says he is an independent who will be part of Nikki Haley’s camp. 2. Vincent Bedard, left, and Erik Kruse of Bloomington, Minnesota, pose for a photo with Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley holding their 3-week-old baby, Dominik Kruse.

Doug Gross, a Des Moines Republican attorney who recently endorsed Haley, said he expects Trump to win Iowa. But if Haley does well in second place, that would give him momentum heading into New Hampshire, he said.

“Then we have a shooting in his home state of South Carolina,” he said. “That’s the best it could be for Nikki Haley.”

Gross is among Haley supporters who wish she had spent more time in Iowa, though she is hopeful that a recent endorsement from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group with a significant presence in the state, could give her an organizational boost.

Haley, whose debate and caucus performances are filled with a mix of Southern charm and biting wit, attempts to connect with Iowans by highlighting her own small-town roots.

“I was born and raised in a small rural town in South Carolina: 2,500 people, two traffic lights,” Haley said recently, standing in front of a huge green John Deere tractor and bales of hay stacked in a shed in Waukee, Iowa. “You couldn’t to think about doing something wrong without someone telling your mom.”

Hay rolls in a flat landscape
The view from a car window of a field in Iowa

Windmills and hay bales dot the Iowa landscape on the highway between Sioux Center and Spirit Lake after Nikki Haley’s campaign.

In the final weeks before the caucuses, Haley is pushing against Biden on his electability, as well as his foreign policy credentials and traditional neoconservative views, remarkable good faith at a time of Russia’s continuing onslaught. against Ukraine, the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and growing concerns about China’s intentions in East Asia.

Such views solidified the support of Michelle Garland, a 52-year-old college psychology professor, after she saw Haley speak at a fancy restaurant in Clear Lake.

“To use a Yiddish word, she has sass. She is genuine. She is the real deal,” said Garland, an independent voter. “She doesn’t say what people want to hear. She says what she feels. And if you don’t like her, you can go somewhere else.”

A question-and-answer period takes up most of the former ambassador’s campaign events. Haley spends more time talking to voters, taking selfies with her supporters and signing campaign memorabilia like her book “With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace” than she does giving her speech.

These are traits that have traditionally been key to winning the hearts and minds of Iowa voters.

“She could be your best girlfriend. You know, we could open a bottle of wine or have coffee together and we would find the kind of human partnership together,” said Claudia Ewald, 65, after asking Haley to sign a photo of them and her husband Dave. at the Waukee meeting.

Nikki Haley talks to a veteran in a cap

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks with a man wearing a hat identifying him as a Korean War veteran after her event in Waukee, Iowa. Haley spends more time interacting one-on-one with voters at her campaign stops than speaking on the stage.

The photo was taken at a 2021 fundraiser for Gov. Kim Reynolds, the first time Ewald met Haley. She fell in love instantly and said Haley was “a solid woman who could build consensus.”

“Your national security [background] it was his biggest strength,” Ewald said, before adding that he made sure to look at other candidates, including DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy before making his decision. “Nikki kept coming to the top. “She is a very genuine person.”

Haley does not overtly focus on her gender, despite it being an undercurrent in the first presidential election since the Supreme Court struck down federal protection of abortion rights.

But her comments — whether about her role as a military wife and mother, counterattacking her Republican rivals when they make gender statements or calling for “a tough woman” to be elected to the White House — appear to be aimed at suburbanites. female voters who could influence next year’s elections.

Nikki Haley's shadow on the wall behind her as she speaks at a campaign event.

Nikki Haley speaks in Spirit Lake, Iowa, in December.

This message and attitude have previously resonated with Iowa voters, said David Kochel, a veteran Republican strategist who has advised Reynolds, as well as Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Ashley Hinson of Iowa.

“Iowa has elected several candidates who look a lot like Nikki Haley … strong conservative women,” Kochel said, adding that Haley’s message is “compelling.” “Now the question is: is there enough time?”

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