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Nikki Haley’s Surge: Setting Up A South Carolina Showdown?

Are we headed for ‘high noon’ in the Palmetto State?

Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley was the candidate on the move this holiday season, gaining ground in two key early-voting states and positioning herself for a potential election-defining showdown in her home state in two months time.

Buoyed by a major grassroots endorsement last month – and a subsequent influx of special interest cash – Haley has pulled within striking distance of presumed GOP nominee Donald Trump in early-voting New Hampshire. Her surge has prompted Trump to start running negative ads against her – even as he purportedly courts Haley as a possible vice presidential nominee in private.

So far, the negative ads aren’t working … and Haley has made it clear she’s not running for second place (although in fairness, she is prone to flip-flopping on such decisions).

According to the latest polling averages from FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolling, Haley is drawing 25.7 percent and 24.8 percent support in New Hampshire, respectively. That puts her well behind Trump – who is at 44.1 percent (+18.4) and 46.3 percent (+21.5), respectively. Nonetheless, momentum is clearly on Haley’s side with one recent poll showing her pulling with four points of the former president in the Granite State.

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Trump blasted that survey as a “fake poll.”

“Fake New Hampshire poll was released on Birdbrain,” he wrote on his Truth Social platform, invoking his nickname for Haley. “Just another scam!”

Is it though? Another survey released the same week by Saint Anselm College showed Trump leading Haley by fourteen percentage points – a wider margin, to be sure, but the former United Nations ambassador’s support had doubled in that survey since September to more than thirty percentage points.

“Nikki Haley has broken away from the pack pursuing former President Donald Trump and become the clear alternative,” the survey’s director Neil Levesque said.



Her work is still cut out for her, however.

“Even after cutting Trump’s lead in half, (Haley) still trails as his support remains steady in the mid-40’s,” Levesque added, noting that Trump backers were not deterred by his ongoing legal issues.

Is Trump’s support steady, though? Or is it stuck?

The new unavoidable reality is that Haley has a path to victory in the Granite State, something no candidate has been able to say since Florida governor Ron DeSantis briefly pulled within striking distance of Trump last spring. In fact, were former New Jersey governor Chris Christie to drop out of the race, Haley would be in line to receive the vast majority of his support – which could push her even closer to the former president in New Hampshire.

Or perhaps past him …

Obviously, New Hampshire’s “First in the Nation” presidential primary – scheduled for January 23, 2024 – isn’t occurring in a vacuum. It will be preceded by a critical caucus election in Iowa on January 15 and followed by a pivotal “First in the South” presidential primary here in South Carolina, where Haley served in the legislature from 2004-2010 and as governor from 2011-2017.




In Iowa, Haley has pulled neck-and-neck with DeSantis – who is clinging to second place behind Trump, who enjoys a much bigger lead in the Hawkeye State than he does in either New Hampshire or South Carolina. Four polls released prior to the holidays showed Haley either tied with DeSantis or trailing him by less than two percentage points. One survey – released by Emerson College on December 21 – actually showed her catching DeSantis for second place.

Eager to capitalize on that momentum, Haley and her allies are opening the saddlebags. According to a report from NewsNation‘s Brooke Shafer, the former South Carolina governor “now leads the field when it comes to total ad support” – with more than $49 million “spent or reserved.” Citing figures from AdImpact, Shafer noted “roughly half of Haley’s total” – an estimated $24.3 million – was in Iowa, putting her ahead of both DeSantis ($21.5 million) and Trump ($14.3 million).

Should Haley edge DeSantis for second place in Iowa, expect her to see an even bigger boost in New Hampshire the following week (especially if Christie were to drop out of the race and endorse her).

Such a scenario would, as I recently predicted, make South Carolina “high noon” in the battle for the GOP nomination – a role the rough-and-tumble Palmetto State has relished in prior election cycles.



(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.



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Molecule of Hope December 28, 2023 at 10:19 am

I’m no fan of Nikki Haley but after the adult baby Republicans had in the White House it would technically be an upgrade.

Homeschooled December 28, 2023 at 11:09 am

Looks like Nikki was reading this blog when looking for an answer to what caused the Civil War.

And it is not going well for her. She looks like even more of a clown now.


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