An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How Nikki Haley is looking at her campaign ahead of Nevada and South Carolina


Nikki Haley has had two disappointing finishes now, last week in Iowa and last night in New Hampshire. But she says she's staying in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.


NIKKI HALEY: This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go, and the next one is my sweet state of South Carolina.

SHAPIRO: That's the former South Carolina governor speaking to supporters last night in Concord, N.H. NPR political correspondent Sarah McCammon is covering the Haley campaign and is here to talk about Haley's next steps. Hi, Sarah.


SHAPIRO: All right. One day after the New Hampshire primary, where does Haley stand in this race?

MCCAMMON: I mean, she's struggling to look like a viable challenge to Donald Trump, who, of course, was the clear winner in both of the first two nominating contests. But she's holding on. The race is now down to just Trump and Haley, and that's a head-to-head that she's wanted. Even so, Trump won last night by double digits in New Hampshire, about 11 points. Haley supporters insist she is making progress just by being the last person standing besides Trump. I talked earlier with Preya Samsundar with the pro-Haley super PAC Stand for America.

PREYA SAMSUNDAR: It's all about gaining momentum and doing better than we did it in previous races. And so we've accomplished that so far, and that's the goal heading into South Carolina.

MCCAMMON: And she points out only a small percentage of votes have been cast. And she says Hayley's looking ahead to both South Carolina's Republican primary in a month and Super Tuesday in March.

SHAPIRO: Just to clarify, Nevada actually votes next, but South Carolina is especially high stakes. What is she facing there?

MCCAMMON: Right. Nevada has this unusual system with both a caucus and a primary next month. Haley is not participating in the caucus, which is what really counts, where the delegates are handed out. So she is focused on her home state of South Carolina, where she's campaigning today. Scott Huffmon is a political science professor at Winthrop University in South Carolina, and he says she was a very popular two-term governor and is still popular at home.

SCOTT HUFFMON: So especially Republicans in South Carolina think very highly of Nikki Haley. But that doesn't mean they want her to be president. They still want Trump to be president. They might want a Haley presidency if there wasn't a Trump with, you know, a stranglehold on the party.

MCCAMMON: Trump has been way ahead in South Carolina polls, and Huffmon says losing in her own backyard could be a bad look for Nikki Haley, assuming she has future political aspirations. So that's something she's likely to be thinking about, too.

SHAPIRO: Meanwhile, what's her message to those voters going forward?

MCCAMMON: You know, she's telling voters she can save the country from another Trump-Biden matchup, which most voters don't seem to want. Danielle Vinson is a politics professor at Furman University in South Carolina. She says she thinks, at least in South Carolina, a better strategy at this stage might be focusing on electability.

DANIELLE VINSON: As much as some of those South Carolina Republican Trump supporters love Trump, they don't want Biden to have four more years.

MCCAMMON: Now, Vinson notes that Haley has been making that argument more and more lately on the campaign trail. She's also, Ari, making a bid for support from independent voters, as we saw in New Hampshire and as she continues on to South Carolina. She's had some success with that in New Hampshire, but registered Republicans overwhelmingly backed Trump there. Now, South Carolina has an open primary, which means people of any party can vote in any primary, and so do several of the Super Tuesday states. Haley's super PAC says they hope she will be able to appeal across party lines to voters who don't want that Biden-Trump matchup she's been talking about. But, Ari, Professor Vinson says Haley needs to show that she can win over a majority of Republican voters in South Carolina if she hopes to have momentum going into Super Tuesday in March.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.