Nikki Haley shows signs of momentum. Can she keep it going?

Nikki Haley
Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, in Boiling Springs, S.C. The former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador is leaning into her foreign policy experiences as she campaigns in her home state, as well as other early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard) Meg Kinnard/AP

Nikki Haley shows signs of momentum. Can she keep it going?

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Nikki Haley has momentum. The question is can she keep it.

Haley, a former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations, gave a standout performance at the first GOP presidential debate and got a polling boost because of it. Now, a new poll suggests she’s best positioned to take out President Joe Biden.


The poll, from CNN, found Haley leading Biden by 6 points, 49% to 43%, the only Republican with a lead over the incumbent clearing the margin of error. Haley is particularly strong among white, college-educated voters, a group that has trended blue in recent cycles and arguably led to Donald Trump‘s 2020 defeat.

“If they nominate Nikki Haley, we’re in trouble,” a Democratic strategist told Politico in August.

Of course, she’s got a long way to go, and Haley’s momentum is far from guaranteed to continue. Her national polling has more than doubled since debate night, yet still stands at just 6.2% overall, per RealClearPolitics.

Still, her campaign can point to the poll that shows her beating Biden as evidence that she’s the most electable candidate, previously an argument made most prominently by the Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) campaign.

“NIKKI HALEY is our best hope in taking back the White House,” Haley press secretary Ken Farnaso posted on X, formerly Twitter, along with data from the CNN poll. “We only have one shot. It’s time to play to win.”

Haley has made the argument herself.

“We have to look at the fact that three-quarters of Americans don’t want a rematch between Trump and Biden,” she said during the Aug. 23 debate. “And we have to face the fact that Trump is the most disliked politician in America. We can’t win a general election that way.”

Similarly, Haley emphasized a practical approach to abortion policy, saying that “we need to stop demonizing the issue” to find consensus on banning late-term abortions, encouraging adoption, and protecting healthcare providers who have objections to the procedure.

That caused a rift with former vice president Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who called for national abortion bans that Haley says won’t pass in the Senate. Her more moderate stance may play better than Pence and Scott’s in a general election.

If she can get there.

The Haley campaign is focusing hard on New Hampshire, the second state to hold a primary, and a recent survey found her tied for second in the Granite State.

Dave Carney, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist, says she shouldn’t be underestimated.

“She’s a serious candidate,” he said. “Absolutely.”

Carney praised Haley for “showing no fear” so far on the campaign trail. He’s also seen her in person during one of her New Hampshire stops and was impressed not only by her speeches but by her one-on-one interactions with voters.

Similarly, Democratic strategist Michael Stratton praised Haley and said there is still plenty of time for a non-Trump candidate to make a run at the GOP nomination.

“Haley is doing well, but some of these other candidates are starting to do well too, and that’s because the whole iceberg of Trump is starting to break down,” he said. “Her line [about Trump] is that he’s damaged goods and he can’t get elected. The other advantage she has is the fact that she is a woman. And so she has certainly acquitted herself well so far.”

While political experts are always wary of electability arguments, Haley says voters are prepared for what she describes as hard truths about the election.


“I think we’ve spoken a lot of hard truths, and I think that Granite Staters appreciate that,” she told Fox News, listing runaway spending, national security, and parents’ rights as issues she’s been upfront about.

“We’re going to keep speaking hard truths, but we’re also going to talk about what the solutions are to fix those things,” she added. “And we love that Granite Staters are getting involved and joining our team, but we’re going to keep our head down.”

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