Haley voters brace for fight with Trump after DeSantis drops out


NEWMARKET, N.H. – New Englanders have a saying about the weather: If you don’t like it, just wait a few minutes, and it’s bound to change. The same can be said for presidential politics in the snow-covered region.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropping out of the 2024 Republican presidential race and endorsing former President Donald Trump was the latest twist to shift the dynamics of the election less than 48 hours before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.  

Now, what was once a crowded, 14-candidate GOP field is a two-person battle between Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. And the fate of the Republican primary could depend on New Hampshire voters.

Haley, who in November garnered the endorsement of the state’s popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, is betting everything on winning, or at least coming in a close second, in Tuesday’s primary.  

The odds aren’t in her favor. Trump led Haley 55% to 36% in a Suffolk University/Boston Globe/NBC-10 tracking poll conducted in the state between January 18 and January 19.  

And DeSantis’ exit may bolster Trump’s lead. Nearly 60% of the Florida governor’s likely voters said Trump was their second choice in the poll.  

Haley’s campaign, however, is hoping that DeSantis’ exit will give her a boost with undecided anti-Trump voters in these final hours before New Hampshire’s primary, which has long had the power to reshape a presidential race.

In an effort to court Granite State voters, she’s leaning into her differences with the ex-president while continuing to flaunt her conservative credentials.  

“This comes down to what do you want?, Haley asked a rowdy crowd of voters packed into a Seabrook lobster shack on Sunday. “Do you want more of the same? Or do you want something new?” 

A ‘steep hill‘ 

As Haley tries to reach crucial independent and moderate voting blocs, some voters in New Hampshire told USA TODAY they’re angry that many former presidential candidates, including DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., are rallying around the business mogul.   

And Joe Blandini, 53, said DeSantis’ departure will make it more difficult for Haley to beat Trump, because now, she’s the only one attacking the ex-president.  

The medical device company executive doubted whether Haley could pull together enough support to outperform Trump.  

“It was such a landslide in Iowa that she really would need to take New Hampshire in my opinion, in order for her to survive,” Blandini said. “It stinks, but I think she is going have a pretty steep hill to climb.” 

Haley’s team has long dismissed polls that show Trump with a steady lead, and they doubled down on those claims Sunday.  

“The day I got elected governor, the polls said I was going to lose by 11 points. I won by two.” Sununu declared during a stop at a fried seafood restaurant in Hampton shortly before DeSantis dropped out. “No offense to the pollsters, but it’s the voters that matter.” 

Two visions 

Some Haley’s most ardent supporters aren’t convinced by the statistics either. 

Jeannie St. Germain, 86, went so far as to describe DeSantis’ departure as a “big victory” for Haley.  

St. Germain, who hails from Hampton, said she wasn’t concerned about Haley’s chances in New Hampshire and instead following one of the next major contests on the Republican calendar: South Carolina.  

“In South Carolina, DeSantis was taking some of the votes away from her,” Germain said. “This way, I think she has a great chance of taking” the Palmetto State.  

Amy Blandini, Joe Blandini’s wife, said she’s optimistic that, without DeSantis in the mix, Haley will consolidate enough anti-Trump voters to notch a win on Tuesday. She described the Republican race as about “the beauty and the beast.” 

“Rather than splitting the vote, if people don’t want Trump, they’ll vote for her,” Amy Blandini, a massage therapist, said. 

She dismissed her husband’s concerns that DeSantis’ endorsement of Trump would hurt Haley. 

“You’d be embarrassed to bring your children or your families to see that man,” she said. “If that’s who people want as the president of the United States, that speaks volumes.” 

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