It’s now a two-person race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — and if former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley doesn’t defeat former President Donald Trump in New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday, the fight may be over.
With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis exiting the race Sunday, Haley now has the one-on-one shot at Trump that eluded his rivals in the 2016 GOP primary.
And it’s up to Republican primary voters in the Granite State — where Trump’s big win eight years ago began his road to dominance of a party he has since reshaped in his image — to decide whether they’ll stick with the former president for a third consecutive election.
New Hampshire, where independents play an outsize role in the GOP primary and where the popular governor, Chris Sununu, has been her top campaign surrogate, could be Haley’s only shot at delivering a political earthquake in the Republican race.
Another big Trump win, though, might effectively end the Republican primary after only two states, and tee up a general election rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden.
Here are six things to watch in the New Hampshire primary:
Haley’s campaign has for months focused on New Hampshire, identifying its more moderate electorate as her best shot of winning one of the four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — that kick off the GOP’s presidential nominating contest.
That’s fueled in part by the state allowing “undeclared” voters — those without a party affiliation — to vote in primaries. Undeclared voters make up a plurality of New Hampshire’s overall electorate.
For Haley, polls — including national and early-state surveys and CNN’s entrance poll in Iowa — have long found that she appeals most to moderates and Republicans eager to move on from Trump.
She’s also been helped by the endorsement of Sununu, himself one of the most prominent anti-Trump voices within the Republican Party. (A home-state gubernatorial endorsement has its limits: DeSantis had the support of Iowa’s Kim Reynolds and still flopped.)
Sununu, in an NBC News interview Sunday, sought to tamp down expectations for a Haley win, arguing that it won’t be critical for Haley to win primary contests until the slate of Super Tuesday primaries in early March.
“I’ve always said you wanted a one-on-one race going into Super Tuesday,” he said. “I think Super Tuesday is probably where you actually have to start winning states.”
Haley said Sunday she would “absolutely” remain in the Republican presidential race through South Carolina’s February 24 primary.
“South Carolinians know I won that state twice. They know I’m a fighter. They know I’m gonna go all the way through,” she said. “I’m also an accountant. So we saved a lot of our dollars to make sure we could be strong in South Carolina.”
Her campaign on Sunday announced plans for its first event in South Carolina after New Hampshire’s primary — a Wednesday evening gathering in North Charleston.
However, presidential candidates rarely admit that the end is near. DeSantis, after all, said he was in the GOP race for the “long haul” a week ago.
If Trump wins, he would make history: In modern presidential campaign history — since the Iowa caucuses began serving as the official kickoff, followed by the New Hampshire primary — no non-incumbent Republican has won both states.
And in doing so, he would make it much tougher for Haley to convince donors to pour money into her campaign and voters to stick with her for the month until the South Carolina primary. She’ll miss her only shot at another win before then because Haley filed to run in Nevada’s state-run primary, instead of competing in the state GOP-run caucuses. Delegates are awarded through the Nevada caucuses.
Some in the party are already eager to see the nominating race reach its end eight days after it started.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines, the chairman of the Senate GOP campaign arm, said Sunday on social media: “Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. I am encouraging every Republican to unite behind him because it will take all of us to defeat Joe Biden, take back the Senate, and hold the House.”
Recent departures from the 2024 race have already shaped the New Hampshire Republican primary.
The exit of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who consistently polled in the low double digits in the Granite State, likely benefited Haley, who has similarly tapped into a segment of the electorate dissatisfied with Trump.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s exit, meanwhile, has likely boosted Trump, coming with an full-throated endorsement from the Ohio businessman on the night of the Iowa caucuses.
DeSantis’ exit Sunday was the latest to shake up the race. And while the Florida governor had little support in New Hampshire, even small movements can prove determinative if the race is much closer than polls suggest it will be.
Trump held 50% support among likely Republican primary voters in the Granite State, with Haley at 39% and DeSantis at 6%, according to a new CNN poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire that was released Sunday before DeSantis’ exit.
And when DeSantis’s supporters are reallocated to their second-choice candidates, Trump leads Haley by a wider 54% to 41% margin. Another 3% of likely GOP primary voters say they’d vote for someone else.
Trump on Sunday night noted his former rivals’ endorsements.
“Vivek just came with us and now Ron just came with us. They’re all coming with us,” Trump said at a campaign event in Rochester, New Hampshire.
Haley, who was Trump’s US ambassador to the United Nations, has in recent days escalated her attacks on her onetime boss — deploying against Trump the same tactic he has used against Biden.
In Derry, New Hampshire, on Sunday, Haley again mentioned Trump’s gaffe Friday night in which he appeared to confuse her with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Trump goes on and on multiple times, saying that I prevented the security on January 6 at the Capitol. I wasn’t even anywhere near the Capitol. … The reality is he was confused. He was confused the same way he said Joe Biden was going to start World War II,” she said, referring to another Trump verbal miscue from a September 2023 speech.
Haley also brought up Trump’s claim that he beat former President Barack Obama, not Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, in 2016.
“These things happen because the more you age, it just does — you have declined. Look at Joe Biden, he’s totally different now than he was two years ago. That’s a fact. It’s what happens,” Haley said.
She told CNN after a stop in Seabrook, New Hampshire, on Sunday that she sees Trump and Biden as “equally bad” options.
“If either one of them was good, I wouldn’t be running. Yes, they are equally bad. That’s why I’m running,” she said. “I don’t think we need to have two 80-year-olds sitting in the White House when we basically got to make sure that we can handle the war situation that we’re in. We need to know they’re at the top of their game.”
Tuesday’s result will test whether Haley’s approach — a line of attack no other Republican took against Trump in this election cycle — was effective.
Top Trump campaign aides Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles sent reporters a memo Sunday saying that Haley must win New Hampshire’s primary — citing past comments from Haley and her supporters, including Sununu, predicting her victory.
LaCivita and Wiles said that if Haley does not win Tuesday, she has two options: Either she “drops out, unites behind President Trump, and commits to defeating Joe Biden,” or she “prepares to be absolutely DEMOLISHED and EMBARASSED in her home state of South Carolina.”
“Choose wisely,” they said.
Should Haley lose, how she handles her election night remarks and any next moves she announces are going to be closely monitored. Does she see Trump as the all-but-certain nominee? Does she have her eyes already on 2028, when Trump would either be a second-term incumbent ineligible to run for office again or an 82-year-old who’d have lost two consecutive general elections?
For her part, Haley insisted Monday on Fox News that she’ll continue in the race, no matter the outcome of the New Hampshire primary.
“I know the political class wants to say that this race is over, and I know that the political class is saying everybody has to get behind Trump. This is not a coronation,” Haley said, when asked about her viability in the race. “A democracy is about giving people options.”
“We’re going to go on into South Carolina, and we’re going to be strong,” she said.
Democrats vote too – and the Biden team will be watching
The Democrats will also be holding a primary on Tuesday – or, more accurately, the state of New Hampshire will conduct a vote that the national Democratic Party, because it changed its primary calendar to make South Carolina the first official contest, has said will not count toward its nomination process. The winner here will not receive any delegates.
For that reason, along with the fact that he spearheaded the move to change the order of the early primaries, Biden will not appear on the ballot. The Democratic National Committee has called the vote “meaningless” and has urged presidential candidates to “take all steps possible not to participate.” (Most ignored this warning and some familiar names, like author Marianne Williamson and Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, are on the ballot. Neither are expected to fare well.)
And yet, the Biden camp will surely be watching how the president performs as a write-in candidate. Biden allies launched a low-profile effort to get Democrats to come to the polls to put pen to paper in support of him. But how many voters will bother?
Polls suggest Democratic enthusiasm for Biden is modest, at best, but a strong turnout for the president – with voters having the added onus of needing to write him in – could inject some new confidence into his reelection operation. On the flip side, a meager showing could confirm the intraparty worries.