On the Trail: ‘Hard working’ Nikki Haley on the rise in New Hampshire

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Monitor

Published: 09-26-2023 5:37 PM

Former President Donald Trump remains the commanding Republican front-runner, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has surged to second place with room to grow, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis failed to resonate in the Granite State.

Those are the toplines from the latest poll in New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary. 

The former president stands at 45% support among the 931 likely Republican primary voters in the Granite State who were questioned Sept. 19-20 by the Saint Anselm College Survey Center. Trump’s numbers are down a slight two points since the previous Saint Anselm survey, which was conducted in June.

Haley is a distant second in the poll, with 15% support. But that’s a 10-point surge from Haley since June. 

Despite the shuffling of names behind the frontrunner, this is a familiar tune for Trump.

“The continued deterioration of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ support has created space for former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to grow,” noted Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. “As in 2016, however, opposition to Trump is diluted over several candidates, preventing the consolidation that would be necessary to deny him a third straight nomination.”

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Haley’s rise comes after she spent plenty of time campaigning in New Hampshire, with an emphasis on holding traditional town hall-style events where she takes questions from voters. Haley became the first major Republican to launch a presidential when she announced her candidacy in February, following Trump’s announcement three months earlier in November.

“Nikki Haley said that she was going to work harder than everyone else. She’s certainly done that here,” Levesque told the Monitor. “She’s been campaigning the old school way, really connecting with voters.”

DeSantis, who won an overwhelming gubernatorial re-election victory in Florida last year and who was firmly in second place in national and early state polls, stands at 11% in the new Saint Anselm survey, down eight points from June and 18 points since March.

“DeSantis may have maneuvered himself into a political dead-end by attempting to brand himself as an alternative to Trump,” Levesque said.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stands at 10% in the survey, up four points from June’s poll. Christie, who’s making his second bid for the GOP presidential nomination, is devoting nearly all of his resources and energy to campaigning in New Hampshire, as he did in his unsuccessful 2016 White House run. Despite his rise, he remains the most unpopular candidate with NH GOP voters, with 57% saying they have a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of him. 

Multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy stands at 6%, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina grabs 3% support, with former Vice President Mike Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson each at 1%, according to the poll.

The Saint Anselm survey is the second straight non-partisan poll in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary to indicate Haley on the rise.

Haley stood at 12% in a CNN/University of New Hampshire poll conducted Sept. 14-18, which was released last week. Trump grabbed 39% support in the survey, with Ramaswamy at 13%, Christie at 11%, DeSantis at 10%, Scott at 6%, and everybody else in the low single digits.

“I think we’ve spoken a lot of hard truths and I think that Granite Staters appreciate that,” Haley said earlier this month when asked about her rise in polls following her well-regarded performance in last month’s GOP presidential nomination debate.

Pointing to her busy retail campaigning schedule in New Hampshire, Iowa and her home state of South Carolina – which holds the first southern contest in the GOP nominating calendar - Haley reiterated that “we’re going to keep our head down, we’re going to keep working and make sure we earn every single person’s support.”

Haley, the only woman among the major candidates running for the Republican nomination, was the first contender on the stage at last month’s debate to come out swinging, targeting DeSantis, Scott, and Pence early in the debate for supporting legislation that raised the national debt. She was also the first to target Trump over his perceived electability liability, arguing the former president was the “most disliked” politician in the country. She also heavily criticized Ramaswamy over foreign policy. The second Republican presidential primary debate will be held Wednesday.

According to the poll, Scott has the highest net favorability among those tested, at 51%, followed by Haley at plus 37%. Scott, a rising star in the GOP and the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, has been running a positive campaign as he spotlights his uplifting conservative message.

Christie stands at a negative 46% net favorability, with Pence at a negative 44% and Hutchinson at negative 22%. Christie and Hutchinson are vocal Republican critics of Trump. And Pence, Trump’s former running mate, earned the scorn of Trump loyalists and many other Republicans for following his constitutional duties on Jan. 6, 2021, as he oversaw the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 Electoral College victory and disregarded Trump requests to overturn the results.

“Christie continues to grow his support, but may have hit his ceiling,” Levesque said. “Christie has succeeded in branding himself as the harshest critic of Trump, but at a cost.”

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