Nikki Haley aims to exceed expectations in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, positioning herself as a formidable challenger to former President Trump in the Republican presidential primary. Recent weeks have witnessed a surge in Haley’s poll numbers and fundraising efforts, prompting increased attention and scrutiny from Trump, indicative of concerns about her growing influence.
As of now, Trump maintains a substantial lead in Iowa, raising uncertainties about Haley’s ability to generate enough momentum to carry into the subsequent New Hampshire primary. According to The Hill/Decision Desk HQ polling average, Trump commands 51.6 percent support in Iowa, with DeSantis trailing at 18 percent and Haley closely behind at 17.1 percent.
Matthew Bartlett, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist, emphasizes the significance of outperforming expectations in Iowa, stating, “It would always be great for someone to outperform expectations in Iowa, and right now Trump’s expectations are a resounding win.”
However, strategists anticipate that New Hampshire and Haley’s home state of South Carolina will play crucial roles in her campaign’s trajectory. In New Hampshire, Trump leads with 41.6 percent, followed by Haley at 29.7 percent, Chris Christie at 10.9 percent, and DeSantis at 7.4 percent. Bartlett suggests that if Trump fails to secure over 50 percent in New Hampshire, a strong showing by Haley could reshape the narrative of the race.
Addressing the dynamics between the two states, Haley hinted at the correction of Iowa’s results during a recent visit to New Hampshire, a statement that drew criticism. Doug Heye, a national Republican strategist, notes that Iowa often serves to “winnow the field,” emphasizing the greater importance of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
While Haley currently leads DeSantis in South Carolina polling, Trump holds a commanding lead with 53.6 percent support, leaving uncertainty about Haley’s ability to surpass him in her home state. Some South Carolina Republicans believe that the outcome in their state could be influenced by events in New Hampshire.
Alex Stroman, a South Carolina Republican strategist, suggests, “If she’s able to win in New Hampshire, I think it really sets up a true battle royal in South Carolina.”
Despite challenges, Haley’s allies maintain optimism about her multiple paths forward. Preya Samsundar, spokesperson for the pro-Haley Stand for America PAC, asserts, “I think they’re all states that we want to win. Nikki is not playing for second. She’s said that over and over again. At the end of the day Nikki has so many pathways to moving forward.”
Trump has signaled his perception of Haley as a threat, evident in recent campaign ads targeting her in New Hampshire. The ads focus on immigration issues, portraying Haley’s perceived weakness against Trump’s claimed strength. Additionally, a pro-Trump super PAC has released an ad featuring past remarks from Haley, highlighting her stance on describing immigrants crossing the border as “criminals.”
Haley is beginning to reveal her strategy for a one-on-one matchup against Trump, taking a more aggressive stance during a CNN town hall in Iowa. She emphasized the need for stability, asserting, “We can’t have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive it.”
In contrast to Trump’s approach, Haley concentrates on counterpunching rather than direct attacks. Haley’s focus is on running her own race and providing truthful responses when necessary. Matthew Bartlett notes, “That is a position of strength. That is somebody that is saying, ‘I’m not going to start it, but I’m certainly not going to take it.’”
However, Republicans caution Haley against falling into Trump’s provocations, drawing parallels with past candidates like Marco Rubio, whose campaigns faltered after direct confrontations with Trump. Bartlett advises, “Remember, when you roll around in the mud with a pig, you both get dirty, but the pig likes it. Donald Trump wants that.”
Haley faces competition not only from Trump but also from DeSantis, who is actively challenging her in the race. The two will engage in a one-on-one debate in Iowa, providing insight into their dynamic. DeSantis has criticized Haley for ties to big-dollar donors and labeled her as “phony,” while Haley has countered by scrutinizing DeSantis’ positions on China.
The upcoming debate will be a pivotal moment for both candidates. Despite potential challenges, Haley has proven her debating prowess in previous encounters, gaining appreciation from voters. Bartlett observes, “It seems as if voters appreciate that.”