Haley courts Democrats and independents in South Carolina ahead of Saturday primary

State’s open primary provides opportunity for Haley but may not overcome Trump’s control of conservatives

John Bowden
Washington DC
Wednesday 21 February 2024 23:40 GMT
Nikki Haley claims 'majority of Americans' do not want Trump or Biden as president

Nikki Haley’s campaign is pulling out all the stops as she hopes for a showing of life in South Carolina’s Republican primary this weekend.

The former governor of South Carolina continues to trail Donald Trump by a significant margin in all available polling, She vowed to stay in the race at a media briefing on Tuesday but clearly heads into the weekend with little to no expectation of beating the former president in the state where she built her political career.

But Ms Haley is clearly doing everything she can to avoid a blowout defeat. And that includes doing everything possible to drive up the turnout of South Carolina’s independent voters, who make up about 10 per cent of the state’s total electorate. As part of that push, Ms Haley sat down for an interview with The Breakfast Club host Charlamagne Tha God, a fellow South Carolinian who grilled her about her past support for Mr Trump and her gaffe in response to a question about the cause of the US Civil War.

It also includes an effort by the super PAC backing her campaign, SFA Fund, to reach Democratic voters and encourage them to vote in the Republican primary for Ms Haley. A mailer reported by NBC News was sent to Democratic voters in the state imploring them to “please participate by voting for Nikki Haley and making your voice heard.” Under South Carolina’s open primary rules, registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters can participate in either (but not both) major party primary contests in the state.

“If you did not vote in the February 3rd Democratic primary, you are eligible to vote on February 24th,” the mailer helpfully notes.

Ms Haley has lost every primary and caucus so far. That includes Nevada, where she lost an uncontested stakes-free primary to “none of these candidates”.

This move is a longshot bid to boost Ms Haley’s numbers in the Palmetto State; Democrats in the state actively urged their own voters to turn out for their party’s primary on 3 February in an effort to retain the state’s relevance in the Democratic Party’s primary calendar. That means a smaller pool of voters for Ms Haley, especially given that the Democrats most likely to cross party lines with the sole intention of blocking Donald Trump from the GOP nomination are likely the same ones most likely to vote in a largely ceremonious Democratic primary to appease the national party.

As a guest editorial in South Carolina’s largest newspaper, the Post and Courier, correctly declared, Nikki Haley needs more than independents (and Democrats) to win in the state. She needs to make serious inroads with conservative Republicans who dominate the GOP electorate in the state, voters who are already firmly in Donald Trump’s camp.

Polling expert Ashley Koning, an associate professor at Rutgers University, explained that Ms Haley was focusing on turning out whatever voters she could as the former governor has likely realised that winning over conservatives is a goal now out of reach.

“The extreme conservative Republicans don't need to be persuaded to go out and vote, and they certainly can't be persuaded in terms of who they're going to vote for. Those minds are already made up,” she told The Independent on Wednesday.

Donald Trump attended a town hall hosted by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham in Greenville on Tuesday; he also appeared at a private fundraiser. Ms Haley was nearby, speaking to supporters at Clemson University.

The former president is set to hold a “get out the vote” rally on Friday in Rock Hill, while Ms Haley is slated to hold numerous events in the leadup to Saturday’s primary.

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