Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, five months after her first candidacy, acknowledges the position she is in.
Although she was the first Republican to announce a challenge to former President Donald J. Trump, she did not spend a dime on television ads, votes well behind Mr. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and struggled at times to make a case for her campaign.
But in an interview Friday, at a picnic table outside a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the small town of Lancaster, NH, Ms. Haley downplayed concerns about her standing in the primary. It’s early in the race, she said, and many voters have yet to tune into the campaigns.
“I look at it as one goal after another; I’m not looking at the end,” she said. “I know that in the middle of autumn, this will be completely different. Once you get past Labor Day, the numbers start to change. And you can look to history for that. That’s not me just hoping, that’s me knowing.”
As she drove through small towns in New Hampshire’s mountainous North region last week, she quietly acknowledged the uphill race, while also recounting her story of overcoming long political odds to win the governorship of South Carolina in 2010, making her the first woman to run like. governor of the state and the second governor of Indian descent.
During her appearances, Ms. Haley also mixed in subtle digs at her primary rivals.
“I didn’t go to an Ivy League school like the guys who are in this race,” she told voters at a North Conway community center on Thursday. “I went to a public university.” Presenting her degree in accounting from Clemson University, she said: “I’m not a lawyer. Accountants are problem solvers.”
Ms. Haley’s most recent swing through New Hampshire, which marks the party’s first primary, was billed by her campaign as a base-focused trip, and one intended to introduce her to voters in this part of the state as a former state executive. with roots in the rural South, rather than an establishment figure with Washington ties.
Frank Murphy, 54, who moved to northern New Hampshire from South Carolina in 2016, knows Ms. Haley as his former governor. When she introduced herself to the voters gathered at the Lancaster VFW post, he raised his hand within the first few minutes of her speech to tell her he was from Charleston.
“I got to see firsthand what she did to help the economy down there,” he said, adding that he was glad to see her running for president. “To come to a town meeting like this and talk to people and get them engaged and talking and asking questions? That’s what you want from a politician,” he said.
The challenge for Ms. Haley is that her credentials could be more of a liability than an asset in a Republican primary that appears to be oriented more toward personality than policy, with much attention focused on Mr. Trump’s legal troubles and the focus by Mr. DeSantis on social and cultural issues.
At small events and gatherings, Ms. Haley has talked as much about her family and personal background as about the economy and foreign policy.
She complimented the scenery of the North Country, adding that its close-knit communities reminded her of her hometown, Bamberg, SC. Her upbringing as a member of the only Native American family in town – “We weren’t white enough to be white, we weren’t Black enough to be Black,” she said — taught her to look for the similarities she shared with others.
On Friday, speaking to voters at the VFW outpost in Lancaster, she mocked the Southern accents she’s used to hearing in South Carolina and tried out a New England sound, asking those in attendance if her pronunciation of “Lan-cah-stah” made her . sound local
“Someone said I sounded like I was from Boston,” she admitted, to sympathetic laughs.
Ms. Haley focused intensely on New Hampshire. By the end of this week she will have made 39 stops in the Granite State, far outpacing most of the Republican field. She is one of the few Republican contenders in 2024 — along with Vivek Ramaswamy — to visit the districts in the North Country region of the state, which sits less than 200 miles from the Canadian border and has forested, winding roads stretching through the White Mountains. .
Her campaign says it is pinning its hopes on a growing network of supporters and volunteers in far-flung corners of the state, rather than spending money on radio or television ads — a long-standing tradition of gleeful delivery and retail politics.
The strategy has yet to generate much momentum. Most New Hampshire primary polls show her in fourth place, behind Mr. Trump, Mr. DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also spent significant time in the state.
Ms Haley’s supporters expressed frustration and confusion that their preferred candidate – whose past roles as UN ambassador and governor prompted an event moderator to ask a crowd on Thursday to decide by applause which title he should use to introduce her – barely polled above 4. percent in the most national public opinion polls.
“We don’t understand it because she’s doing so well,” said Beverly Schofield, an 84-year-old Republican voter dressed in red, white and blue, who drove from Vermont with her daughter to see Ms. Haley in New Hampshire. on friday “It’s very impressive that she’s doing as well as she is. But I’d like to see her climb those stairs quickly.”
Her supporters say Ms. Haley’s reputation reflects the challenges of campaigning in this particular primary more than her political skills. The Republican field has ballooned to a dozen candidates, splitting the anti-Trump vote, while his recent and potential accusations appear to have only brought the former president closer to capturing the nomination. Ms. Haley’s supporters wonder how the campaign intends to turn things around
“That’s the question I wanted to ask her,” said Ted Kramer, 81, a retired marketing executive who attended Ms. Haley’s town hall in North Conway. “She needs to raise the profile.”
Ms. Haley pointed to previous Republican front-runners who have since failed, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. The race so far has been painted largely as a two-man race between Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis, Ms. Haley said, but the voters are likely to be sour on one.
“I know the reality of how fast someone can go up and how fast they can fall,” she said. “The shiny object today is not the shiny object tomorrow. So it’s about not peaking too early.”
She added, “I’m very realistic about what the benchmarks are and what we have to overcome.”
Those markers include securing the required number of donors and funds to make the debate stage in August – which she did. She also said she will continue to focus on Iowa and New Hampshire while building on the base she has in South Carolina, another early state, where she and Sen. Tim Scott, who represents the state, aim to tap into similar voter bases and donor networks. . . The two have not spoken since he launched his campaign, she said.
Ms. Haley also admitted to feeling undervalued in the race. She is often included in conversations about vice presidential contenders, although she has emphatically said she is not eyeing the position. She also said many, especially in the news media, failed to recognize “the street cred that I have,” listing political victories and avoiding crises seen during her tenure as South Carolina governor and as United Nations ambassador. “I mean, these weren’t small jobs,” she said.
Republicans longing for an alternative to Mr. Trump made up a large portion of the crowds at Ms. Haley’s events, along with moderate Republicans and independent voters. Few who attended Ms. Haley’s events this week said they were fully committed to supporting her, and many said they wanted to test the political waters, a signature of campaigning in New Hampshire, where most primary voters can expect to hear from each candidate personally. , usually more than once.
Ms. Haley, eager to sway some of those who were on the fence, made political points on the stump and condemned Democrats on race, education and the inclusion of transgender athletes. She criticized both Democrats and Republicans for their handling of Covid-19 and chastised Congress, asking voters if they could show anything their representatives in Washington had done for them.
She also used her foreign policy background, saying the biggest threat to the United States is China and repeatedly criticizing the Biden administration for its approach, folding in terse words for Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who is visiting the country this week.
Joanne Archambault, an independent voter who lives near North Conway, said she liked Ms. Haley’s message and saw her as an authoritative speaker on political issues. However, she said Ms. Haley’s foreign policy talk distracted from domestic priorities.
“I think there is too much focus on foreign affairs, too much talk about the border and about China,” she said. “Let’s talk about the issues we face — you know, gun violence, abortion, let’s talk about those things. Let’s focus on this country and not what other countries are doing.”