Former Gov. Nikki Haley woos Southern California voters as primary ballots go out – Orange County Register

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Wild Goose Tavern in Costa Mesa on Wednesday morning, Feb. 7, 2024. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley barnstormed Southern California on Wednesday, just as primary ballots are starting to arrive in voters’ mailboxes.

The former governor and U.N. ambassador is courting voters — and fundraising — while in town.

She is introducing herself to Southern California voters, highlighting her tenure as the Palmetto State’s former chief executive and her foreign policy experience as a U.N. ambassador. But Haley, 52, is also ramping up her criticisms of former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the GOP primary race, saying he begets “chaos” and is focused more on himself than on voters.

“I voted for Donald Trump twice. I was proud to serve America in his administration, but chaos follows him,” Haley said at the Wild Goose Tavern in Costa Mesa on Wednesday morning. “We can’t be a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive it.”

Pointing to House Republicans knocking down an Israel aid package and an appellate court’s recent ruling that Trump isn’t immune from prosecution for trying to overturn his 2020 election loss, Haley said: “Every bit of it is chaos, and he’s got his fingerprints on every bit of it.”

“We need someone with executive experience, but we also need someone who knows national security,” Haley said.

Her message to local voters, Haley told the Southern California News Group in an exclusive interview in Costa Mesa, is: “Let’s make America normal again.”

“There’s a decision that (voters in Southern California) have to make. Do we go with the same or do we go in a new direction? And more of the same is not just Joe Biden; it’s also Donald Trump,” Haley said. “Are we really going to give them two candidates in their 80s? We can do better than that.”

Haley has called for term limits and mental competency tests for politicians over the age of 75. She said those views — and others — have fueled Trump’s and his surrogates’ attacks.

“They don’t like that I’m not interested in being their friends,” she said. “I’m interested in serving the taxpayers of our country. … They can go and say whatever lies they want; my record stands true.”

The ages of President Joe Biden (81) and Trump (77) should matter to voters, Haley maintains. “We will have a female president. The hard truth is, it’s either going to be me or Kamala Harris.”

“We need someone who can do eight years of hard, strong discipline to get the job done,” Haley said.

About 400 people crowded inside the Wild Goose Tavern in Costa Mesa during the drizzly morning — according to crowd estimates from Mario Marovic, a partner in the restaurant — sipping on drinks from the bar and eating passed appetizers like pickled deviled eggs and sweet potato goat cheese fritters. Animal heads, draped with bras, lined the walls; “Haley for President” buttons and signs adorned tables.

The bar is named for John Wayne’s yacht, said Newport Beach Councilmember Erik Weigand, who introduced Haley at the Orange County event. “We need somebody just like John Wayne who can stand up to bullies … and that is why I like what Nikki Haley brings to the table.”

In California, the GOP presidential election is considered “closed,” meaning only registered Republican voters will see it on their ballots.

Stephaney Avital, an Orange County resident, said she’s been a registered Democrat but switched parties to support Haley in the primary.

“I want to see a change in our country. I don’t want to see the same old circus that we’ve had in the last eight years,” Avital said. “We want to see moderation, we want to see logic, we want to see policies change. We want to see something different than we’ve already had.”

Haley was met Wednesday morning by a small group of Trump supporters who gathered outside the restaurant. They waved “MAGA” flags and wore “America first” hats, calling Haley a “RINO,” a phrase that stands for “Republican in name only” and is used by the former president and his allies to malign those who are more moderate in the GOP.

A small group of supporters of former President Donald Trump gathered outside an event for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in Costa Mesa on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Photo by Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A small group of supporters of former President Donald Trump gathered outside an event for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in Costa Mesa on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Photo by Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Two demonstrators were escorted out of the bar for trying to shout down Haley during the remarks. At least one was a supporter of the former president.

Haley briefly paused her remarks during the interruptions, using it to highlight her husband’s military experience. Maj. Michael Haley is serving in Africa with the South Carolina Army National Guard. He and other servicemembers, she said, are making sacrifices so Americans can have freedom of speech.

How Super Tuesday would be super for Haley

The Southern California trip came on the heels of a big loss in the symbolic presidential primary election in Nevada on Tuesday night. There, voters picked “none of these candidates” ahead of Haley. Trump didn’t participate in the Nevada primary, where no delegates are awarded, and is instead focused on Thursday’s caucus.

But Haley brushed it off Wednesday morning, calling it a “scam that Trump already had in the bag.” Her campaign, she said, didn’t spend time or money in Nevada, instead focusing on states like South Carolina and Michigan as well as Super Tuesday spots.

Haley is committed to staying in the race through Super Tuesday, she said.

“I’m not going anywhere. We have a country to save,” Haley said when asked about how long she’ll stay in the race. “We are determined to outsmart, outwork, outlast until we finish this.”

Super Tuesday — March 5 this year — is a critical time in the primary election season; it’s the day when the most states vote and candidates can rack up more delegates for the summer’s nominating convention.


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