WASHINGTON (TND) — The race to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination gained another candidate this week with the official launch of Nikki Haley’s campaign, presenting the first challenger to former President Donald Trump.
Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina governor, started her campaign with an event in her home state where she called for “generational change.”
In a video announcing her candidacy along with an event in Charleston on Wednesday, Haley called for her party to move in a new direction after losing the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Her comments echo others made by Republican lawmakers and other officials after the last two elections brought disappointing results for the party, losing the White House and Senate and only gaining a small majority in the House despite several factors working in the party’s favor.
“Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans,” Haley said Wednesday. “Well, that ends today. If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation. And if you want to win not just as a party but as a country, stand with me.”
Haley’s biggest challenge as a new candidate in the race will be building up her name recognition outside of South Carolina. In a Monmouth poll released last week, Haley received just 1% of the vote when Republican voters were asked who they would like to see as the Republican nominee. Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were tied at 33% in the poll with multiple other potential candidates at 2%.
Her early announcement may help gain some ground in that area, as the only other candidate actively campaigning and reaching out to voters is Trump.
“That lets her occupy a decent amount of airspace, with without any other individual kind of getting in the way,” said Kirk Randazzo, chair of the University of South Carolina’s political science department. “So that gives her a chance to introduce herself to people, tell them about her vision for the United States and I think that was a very good strategic move on her part.”
Haley’s head start in building up support in early primary states could help improve her standing among the party’s voters coming into her home state’s primary. South Carolina has a history of picking both party’s eventual nominee and can save campaigns that are otherwise struggling. Biden’s win in South Carolina during the 2020 primary is credited by many for saving his campaign that had come into the state struggling and ultimately boosting him to the White House.
South Carolina may be a difficult state for Haley to win though, however. Fellow South Carolinian Sen. Tim Scott is another potential Republican nominee and Trump has a built-in base of support that could split the vote enough to let a candidate win with a plurality.
“There's a good chance that Haley will be able to last until that primary and for her, I gotta believe that’s sort of the bellwether moment for her,” Randazzo said. “If she does not win South Carolina, then I think things are over for her. Because if she can't take her home state then then I don't really think she has a chance.”
She has already received an in-state endorsement from Rep. Ralph Norman, a staunch Trump ally and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
“We are at a pivotal point in our nation. While the Republican candidates, values, and messages have done very well here in South Carolina, that hasn’t been the case everywhere across our great nation,” Norman said in a tweet.
Haley has been careful not to criticize the former president but has tiptoed around his presence in calling for new leadership.
She also may have made a dig at Trump and President Joe Biden’s age this week when she said politicians over the age of 75 should have to take a competency test. Trump is 76 and Biden is 80, and both became the oldest person to hold the Oval Office.
“We’re ready. Ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past, and we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future,” Haley said Wednesday.
There is some speculation that her ultimate goal may to be to work her way onto a presidential ticket through a vice presidential nod from the eventual winner. Haley has sidestepped outright criticisms of Trump, DeSantis or any other potential candidates in the run-up to and announcement of her candidacy.
“Once we start getting into the debates, she may have to be a bit more direct in her responses and criticize individuals,” Randazzo said. “That's going to be the point where we will we'll be able to tell whether she's really vying for a vice presidential seat. If she kind of holds her fire in criticizing Trump or DeSantis, then I think it'd be pretty apparent that she's playing for the No. 2 spot.”