Skip to Content

Nikki Haley’s path forward is narrow. But she vows she isn’t going anywhere before Super Tuesday

<i>Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images</i><br/>Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Wild Goose Tavern in Costa Mesa on February 7.
Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Wild Goose Tavern in Costa Mesa on February 7.

By Kylie Atwood, Jeff Zeleny, Arit John and Ebony Davis, CNN

(CNN) — A day after losing to “none of these candidates” in Nevada’s non-binding primary, Nikki Haley urged supporters in California, one of several Super Tuesday states she plans to compete in next month, to stick with her.

“If you will stay with us in this fight, I’m not going anywhere!” the former South Carolina governor told dozens of supporters at the Wild Goose Tavern in Costa Mesa Wednesday. “I’m willing to take the heat, I’m willing to take the bruises, I’m willing to do the fight and go through the pain – all I’m asking is that you stand here with me.”

Haley has outlasted all of former President Donald Trump’s primary challengers and continues to post strong fundraising numbers, but her campaign faces a daunting, if not impossible, path to winning the GOP presidential nomination. Trump continues to dominate in polls of upcoming primary states, and Republicans who have rallied around the former president are growing more insistent in their calls for her to drop out.

As Trump’s hold on the party solidifies, speculation has grown about Haley’s political plans – and when she might exit the race.

Her campaign has privately told allies and donors that the former United Nations ambassador has no plans to run for president in 2028. That stance is a significant factor fueling her determination to stay in the presidential race for as long as she has the resources, sources familiar with recent conversations told CNN.

Right now, Haley is also thinking about the current election and what it means for the future of the country, not what it means for her personal future, people familiar with her thinking told CNN.

“If Trump loses, a door could open for Nikki and a lot of other people,” one source close to the Haley campaign told CNN. “Her view is, I am going for broke, even if it may make me unpopular with some in the party establishment today.”

Her team has also fought against the narrative that she could leave the race after a disappointing finish in South Carolina by beginning to boost her presence in Super Tuesday states. On Wednesday, Haley announced her leadership team in Massachusetts and held two campaign events in California alongside fundraisers her campaign said brought in $1.7 million in two days. Her campaign also continued to criticize Trump for refusing to debate her with a new digital ad in South Carolina.

“We don’t do coronations in America,” Haley said Wednesday in California, echoing a refrain she has made again and again since voting began in the Republican nominating contest last month – with Trump securing dominant wins in the first two states, Iowa and New Hampshire.

More so than any of the other Republicans who sought to challenge Trump, Haley has emerged with a far higher stature than at the time of her announcement one year ago. She amassed a national fundraising network, ascended higher than any other Republican female candidate before her and enhanced her credibility in the segment of the party looking to turn the page beyond the former president.

“She is the alternative to Trump,” a longtime Republican friend of Haley’s told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk about any endgame. “If only the party was looking for one.”

Indeed, her candidacy has drawn considerable interest from moderates and independents but failed to spark an actual political movement among Republicans, given the grip Trump has over the party.

Even among private conversations with longtime associates and advisers, Haley is loath to discuss the end of the road for her campaign. She has vowed to stay in the race through the South Carolina primary on February 24 and a series of Super Tuesday contests on March 5.

Haley has not addressed her future beyond that.

“She will keep winning delegates, why wouldn’t she stay in?” the longtime Republican friend said, pointing to the criminal charges and other legal obstacles Trump is navigating.

A narrow path

But racking up delegates only gets harder from here on out. As of now, Trump has 33 delegates to Haley’s 17, with 1,215 needed to win the nomination. The earliest a candidate could win enough delegates to secure the nomination is mid-March.

In Nevada, Haley chose to compete in the February 6 primary, which did not grant any delegates. She lost by more than 30 points to “none of these candidates,” a likely proxy vote for Trump, who was not on the ballot. Trump is the only major candidate competing for delegates in the state’s February 8 caucuses.

As for South Carolina, a Monmouth/Washington Post poll released this month found Haley trailing by 26 points there, with 58% of potential GOP primary voters backing Trump in her home state.

Nearly 900 delegates will be up for grabs on March 5, when more than a dozen states will vote. Several of those states, including California with its 169 delegates, have rules that award all their delegates to a candidate who wins the majority of the vote – something that’s much more likely with only two competitors left in the race.

After March 15, states have the option to award all of their delegates to whoever wins the most votes, even if the candidate doesn’t win a majority.

Still, Haley’s allies have argued there is a path for her. Her campaign has pointed to what they say is a record-breaking fundraising haul in January of $16.5 million as an indication she has the “resources to go the distance,” as her campaign manager Betsy Ankney told reporters this week.

Her campaign has also pointed to 11 Super Tuesday states that allow open or semi-open primaries, making it easier for independents to back her in a Republican primary. Those states present “fertile ground” for Haley, Ankney said in a memo ahead of her New Hampshire loss.

In recent fundraisers, Haley has told donors that she plans to stay in the race through Super Tuesday, echoing her campaign manager’s sentiment that she could pick up delegates in a handful of states.

“Haley wants voters to have a choice… why cede that battle after only a handful of states have voted, when you have the resources to keep going?” said Alex Conant, a GOP consultant who served as the communications director for Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “In the history of presidential campaigns, no one has dropped out when they are raising tons of money.”

Haley has also increasingly mentioned Trump’s legal troubles on the campaign trail. Haley has not said that his multiple indictments are the reason she remains in the race, but she has tried to convince voters that she is looking to win over of the chaos and financial burden he would bring to the party as its nominee.

“There’s a theory that she’s gaining delegates so that if something were to happen to Trump – via age, health or criminal conviction – she would then be the candidate that controlled some delegates at the convention,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist based in California.

Stutzman, like many, said the primary likely ends with Trump as the nominee, but he also made the case for letting the process play out.

“Why not let people vote, as long as she is able to keep funding a campaign?” he said.

The other factor shaping Haley’s decision to stay in the race is her personality. The former governor often talks about being underestimated throughout her career, and those who know her well say that the way she views uphill climbs is unique.

“People think of Nikki like a traditional politician, and that’s what they get wrong: that is not how Nikki thinks,” said Rob Godfrey, a top aide to Haley when she was governor.

Godfrey said he expected Haley to keep fighting after South Carolina, especially if the margin is similar to New Hampshire, where she lost by 11 points.

“If she shows a number that keeps donors, reporters, and voters interested  – as a number in the mid 40s would do –  she is not going anywhere besides the next state on the calendar,” he said.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content