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Nikki Haley was crushed by Trump in her home state of SC. So why is she still running?

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Her chances of securing the 2024 Republican presidential nomination are vanishing fast. But Nikki Haley isn’t giving up — at least not yet.

After suffering defeats against former President Donald Trump in Iowa, New Hampshire and the U.S. Virgin Islands and losing to “none of the above” in the Nevada primary, the former South Carolina governor was banking on the results of her home state primary to turn the race around.

It wasn’t even close. Projections now show Haley losing South Carolina and most, if not all, of its delegates will likely go to Trump. For most politicians, a loss of this magnitude in their home state would end their campaign. No major-party nominee since 1972 has lost their home state.

Addressing a crowd of supporters chanting "Nikki" on Saturday night, the former U.N. ambassador conceded the election to her former boss, who was leading her by around 20 percentage points when she took the stage.

"America will come apart if we make the wrong choices. This has never been about me or my political future," Haley told a cheering crowd. "I am a woman of my word. I'm not giving up this fight."

Haley has pledged to remain in the GOP presidential race until at least Super Tuesday, when 15 states and one territory will vote on March 5. More than half of the delegates needed to win the GOP nomination will have been awarded after that day.

Trump has an overwhelming lead in nearly all of the upcoming contests, and without the victory in South Carolina or a dramatic event that changes the course of the competition, Haley will not have the momentum she needs to pull off an upset anywhere else.

So why stay in the race against those odds?

“I’m not giving up this fight when a majority of Americans disapprove of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” Haley said. “South Carolina has spoken. We’re the fourth state to do so. In the next ten days, another 21 states and territories will speak. They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate. And I have a duty to give them that choice.”

Shaping the future of the Republican Party

Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley campaigns on Feb. 21, 2024, in Beaufort, S.C.
Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley campaigns on Feb. 21, 2024, in Beaufort, S.C.

Haley’s candidacy is as much about shaping the future of the Republican Party as it is about standing up to Trump. As the ex-president’s sole remaining GOP competitor, Haley has argued over the last week that she owes it to voters to stay in the race.

She has accused Trump of rejecting traditional conservative principles and making divisive comments that shrink the GOP’s voting base rather than expand it. Where the ex-president added to the national debt and complimented Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Haley has said the GOP should stand for fiscal responsibility and promote democracy.

Not only that, Trump is distracted by his legal troubles, and he is “so obsessed with his own demons from the past, he can’t focus on delivering the future Americans deserve,” Haley said Tuesday.

In stump speeches across states that hold their contests early, Haley has also insisted that she’s better equipped than Trump to beat President Joe Biden in the November general election. She’s pointed to polling, including a recent survey conducted by the Marquette Law School, that shows her up by double digits against Biden. A RealClearPolitics average of national polls shows Haley leading Biden by 5 points. Trump is up by 2 points over Biden in that same survey.

“This battle is about who can win in November, defeat the Democrats, and finally get our country back on track,” Haley’s campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, told reporters on Friday. She argued that Trump’s rhetoric and four criminal indictments could dissuade key voting blocs, such as suburban women, from backing Republicans up and down the ballot in November.

“Trump has shown that he lost those demographics, which is why we have lost in many elections since he was elected in 2016. And so, we’re going to fight to bring more people into the party so that we can once again win elections,” Ankney said.

Pressing for younger political leaders

Haley, 52, has billed herself as a next-generation leader, drawing a sharp contrast with Trump, 77, and Biden, 81.

Highlighting concerns about both of their ages during her Tuesday speech, Haley called Trump and Biden “two old men who are getting older.”

Age concerns have plagued the 2024 elections, particularly on the Democratic side, with many Americans expressing concern about the octogenarian commander-in-chief’s mental acuity.

Haley had demanded competency tests for both men. If he's elected again, Trump would be in his 80s, too, by the end of a second term.

Feb 24, 2024; Kiawah Island, SC, USA; Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley spoke with the press after voting in Saturday’s GOP primary Saturday in Kiawah Island. Megan Smith-USA TODAY
Feb 24, 2024; Kiawah Island, SC, USA; Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley spoke with the press after voting in Saturday’s GOP primary Saturday in Kiawah Island. Megan Smith-USA TODAY

Haley told reporters on Saturday as she voted at her local polling place on Kiawah Island that she hopes Republican voters across the country will recognize that there is another choice before them.

“We can leave the drama and the chaos, we can lead the incompetence, and we can go to something that is normal. And that’s what people want, especially the younger generation. They just want to know what normal feels like,” Haley said.

Anti-Trump donations pouring in

When Trump warned after the New Hampshire primary that anyone who donated to Haley would be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp,” she received an influx of cash. Haley raised $2 million in the 48 hours after the threat, her campaign said. Federal paperwork the campaign filed this week showed Haley outraising Trump in January.

The money has kept her campaign afloat.

Haley had $13 million in the bank at the end of last month. Trump had a much larger war chest, his campaign filing showed. But his campaign had to tap into it in January to get the former president through the first several contests. He had $30 million left at the end of last month.

It’s unclear what either of the campaigns’ finances look like now. Haley’s campaign manager declined to say Friday, in response to a question from USA TODAY, how much the candidate had raised in February and how much cash she had left.

“Our grassroots digital and mail programs are continuing to grow by the day. And so we are fully confident that we will have the resources to compete moving forward,” Ankney said.

Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers a speech in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, on Feb. 23, 2024, the night before the state’s GOP primary.
Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers a speech in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, on Feb. 23, 2024, the night before the state’s GOP primary.

Haley’s campaign said earlier in the week, however, that Trump’s attack on Haley’s husband, who is deployed with the U.S. military overseas, helped the candidate raise $1 million in the 48-hour period that followed the South Carolina rally where he made the remark. It said she raised another $5 million from major donors during a fundraising swing this month, but she also spent an additional $2 million in South Carolina on ads.

Haley’s campaign said Friday that it was advertising in Michigan and announced a seven-figure national ad buy.

The two days after the South Carolina primary will be a critical time period for Haley’s fundraising efforts, based on her previous fundraising cadence.

“As long as she has the resources to run a robust campaign that allows her to communicate with voters in every state that she’s made a priority, she’s going to continue to do that,” Rob Godfrey, a senior aide to Haley during her time as governor, said.

Looking to beat Trump with delegates

In order to secure the GOP nomination, a candidate must win 1,215 delegates. Trump currently has 63, and Haley has 17.

There are 50 delegates up for grabs in the Palmetto State. Whoever wins statewide on Saturday will receive 29. Three delegates will go to the popular vote winner in each of the state’s seven congressional districts for a total of 21 additional delegates.

If Trump wins by a large margin in the state, he could leave South Carolina with all 50 in his column.

Trump could lock up the nomination in mid-March, after more than half of the party’s delegates have been allotted. His campaign projects he will become the presumptive nominee no later than March 19.

Haley’s future political ambitions

Some political strategists and pundits have pondered whether Haley has an ulterior motive for sticking it out against Trump. Namely, they question whether she is setting herself up for a future presidential bid.

“If the party ever turns away from Trump, she can say that she was the voice against him,” Ryan Williams, the national press secretary for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said with a heavy dose of skepticism. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”

Feb 20, 2024; Greenville, SC, USA; Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers a speech to press and supporters in Greenville, S.C Haley said she would not be dropping out of the presidential race ahead of the South Carolina primary. Mandatory Credit: Megan Smith-USA TODAY ORG XMIT: USAT-751502 (Via OlyDrop)
Feb 20, 2024; Greenville, SC, USA; Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers a speech to press and supporters in Greenville, S.C Haley said she would not be dropping out of the presidential race ahead of the South Carolina primary. Mandatory Credit: Megan Smith-USA TODAY ORG XMIT: USAT-751502 (Via OlyDrop)

Others have wondered whether Haley plans to launch a third-party bid.

The centrist group No Labels floated putting Haley on a potential bipartisan unity ticket, and Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, who is challenging Biden in the Democratic primary, said he was open to being Haley’s running mate if she ran as an independent.

Haley hasn’t ruled out the idea, but she also hasn’t endorsed it. Haley’s campaign manager said Friday that the former U.N. ambassador was “focused on winning the Republican nomination.”

If Haley is pushing forward because of long-term political ambitions, she’s kept it close to her chest.

“People say I’m trying to set up a future presidential run. How does that even work?” Haley she said with a laugh on Tuesday. “If I was running for a bogus reason, I would have dropped out a long time ago.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why is Nikki Haley still running? Despite SC loss, she is fighting on