On the trail: Nikki Haley packs them in at NH town halls

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Monitor

Published: 02-18-2023 2:22 PM

As she aims to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination over her old boss – former President Donald Trump – Nikki Haley has a message for Granite State Republicans.

The former two-term South Carolina governor and America’s first female governor of Asian American heritage, speaking to an energetic and supportive crowd packed into Exeter’s historic town hall, said that if Republicans want to start winning presidential elections again, the party has to “start focusing on new generational leadership and the best way to do that is to put a badass woman in the White House.”

And Haley, who served for two years as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nation, took a jab at the former president’s constant relitigation of his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, emphasizing that in order for the GOP to be successful, “we’ve got to stop talking about old issues, and we need to start looking forward.”

Haley’s town hall in Exeter, one of a handful of towns across the country that claims to be the birthplace of the Republican Party but that in present day has trended solidly blue, was her first event during a three-day swing in the state that holds the second contest in the GOP nominating calendar. Haley arrived in New Hampshire the day after formally kicking off her campaign at a launch event in her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

On Friday, Haley greeted voters at a house party in Bow, one of a number of small events she held before headlining a second town hall – at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown.

Haley officially declared her candidacy in a social media video on Tuesday, joining Trump as the only major Republicans to date to have jumped into the 2024 GOP nomination race. But the field is expected to grow in the coming weeks and months, with the strong possibility of two Trump administration veterans – former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – launching campaigns, as well as former two-term Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Larry Hogan of Maryland.

Among other Republicans seriously considering presidential bids are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Govs. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, as well as Gov. Chris Sununu.

Trump, more than two years after losing the 2020 election, remains the GOP’s most popular and influential politician, and he’s considered a clear co-frontrunner in the nomination race in the latest public opinion polls, along with DeSantis, who remains on the sidelines, with Haley and the rest of the potential contenders registering in the low single digits.

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But Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, has a history of winning tough elections. In 2004, she defeated the state’s longest-serving state House member in the GOP primary, en route to winning a state legislative seat. And six years later, she topped a congressman and the state’s lieutenant governor and attorney general in the Republican gubernatorial primary, ahead of her general election victory. For months leading up to her presidential announcement, she would tout that she’s “never lost an election” and that “when people underestimate me, it’s always fun.”

In an interview with this reporter on Thursday, Haley said “those things don’t scare me. I’m going to get the job done. I always have. No one will out-work me.”

Introducing Haley at her town halls in Exeter and at Saint Anselm College was retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc, the 2022 GOP Senate nominee in the Granite State.

Bolduc, who ran a far-right, low budget, grassroots and outsider campaign last year, defeated the GOP establishment candidate – the Sununu-endorsed former state Senate President Chuck Morse – in the September primary. Haley then sprang into action, making three trips to New Hampshire in late September and October to campaign with Bolduc and help him fundraise. But Bolduc, who supported Trump’s unproven claims the 2020 president was riddled with massive fraud and stolen from him before reversing his position, ended up losing by nearly 10 points in November to former governor and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.

“She just really impressed me with her experience, with her leadership, with her values and principles…and her dedication to the values and principles of this nation,” Bolduc said in an interview on Thursday afternoon.

“We need change, and we need new leadership,” he stressed. “She knows the problems. She knows the solutions. She’s been an executive. She’s seen it at the national and international level as an ambassador. Her compassion and her empathy and her complete dedication to public service, putting herself last and everybody else first, I think is what we need in this country and that is why I am supporting her.”

And Bolduc emphasized that “Ambassador Haley really helped us out, really loved the grassroots campaign that we ran…. I think that’s really reflective of her style as well – get out there – talk to the people.”

While Bolduc was soundly defeated in the general election, his backing of Haley may prove beneficial in next year’s primary.

“Getting the endorsement of someone who just won a statewide primary is never a bad thing,” longtime Granite State-based Republican strategist Greg Moore said.

Moore said that if you compare “the parts of the party that voted for Don Bolduc in the primary last year and the target audience of Nikki Haley, how much overlap there is? It doesn’t seem like a natural connection. Bolduc has attracted more of the insurgents and Haley, at least at this point, seems to be targeting the more establishment Republican types.”

“It will be interesting to see if Bolduc’s endorsement is able to bring along some people from the insurgent crowd to support Nikki Haley,” Moore, the state director for the influential, conservative public advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, noted.

After her stops in New Hampshire, Haley heads next week to Iowa, whose caucuses for half a century have led off the White House race.

While the GOP made no changes to the top of its primary and caucus schedule, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) overwhelmingly voted earlier this month to dramatically alter the top of its presidential nominating calendar for the 2024 election cycle, bumping Iowa and New Hampshire from their longtime leadoff positions.

The push by the DNC to upend its primary calendar to give more representation at the top of the schedule to Black and Hispanic voters had been vigorously fought by New Hampshire, which for a century has held the first primary in the race for the White House. The DNC approved a proposal by Biden to move South Carolina to the lead position in the Democrats’ primary calendar, with New Hampshire and Nevada holding primaries three days later.

The president came in a distant fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary in 2020, before rebounding to a second-place finish in Nevada. Biden then won South Carolina — where Black voters play an outsized role in Democratic Party primaries — in a landslide, boosting him toward his party’s nomination and eventually the White House.

Asked about the Democrats’ move to upend their calendar, Haley argued “why did that happen? Joe Biden knew that he couldn’t win New Hampshire. He knew that he wasn’t going to win so he went to South Carolina. Well guess what, I don’t think he’s going to win South Carolina either.”

Haley said that Biden “should have stayed with what it was.”

“I think South Carolina is great. And you see South Carolina is number three for the Republicans,” Haley said. “I just think I can see through what Joe Biden did. It was wrong. He should have dealt with New Hampshire just like every other candidate has had to deal with New Hampshire. You don’t go pull strings because you know you can’t win in a state.”

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