Haley gets good news in New Hampshire

Nikki Haley is on the rise, looking for an upset that could derail former President Trump’s path to the Republican presidential nomination.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the New Hampshire primary is her best— and perhaps only — chance.

Haley’s advance in the Granite State has been striking.

A new American Research Group (ARG) poll released Thursday put Haley within 4 points of Trump in New Hampshire — a jaw-dropping result given that Trump has a lead of about 50 points in national polls. 

The ARG poll showed Trump with 33 percent support in New Hampshire and Haley at 29 percent, with the rest of the field well behind.

Regardless of whether the Granite State primary is really that close, Haley’s move up is real.

Another poll in recent days, from Saint Anselm College, showed Haley at 30 percent support, double the backing she drew in a survey from the same organization in September. The Saint Anselm poll showed Haley behind Trump by 14 points.

Political observers in New Hampshire are impressed by Haley’s rise even as they are circumspect about just how far it will take her.

“Haley has got real momentum, and she has been building it over a period of months,” said Jim Merrill, a GOP strategist in New Hampshire who is not working for any of the presidential campaigns.

Merrill acknowledged Trump was “definitely” still the favorite to win the primary, which takes place Jan. 23. But Trump’s position as the dominant front-runner in the national race means he must meet high expectations everywhere.

“Haley is the underdog, and the expectations are appropriately lower,” Merrill said. “There is no question that she is surging forward and she has time left on the clock.”

Team Trump, meanwhile, seems irked by Haley’s rise and the media attention it is attracting.

A Trump campaign spokesperson, asked by email for comment on this story, replied only with a link to a social media posting that featured another poll, in which Trump leads Haley by 30 points. 

Trump himself responded to the ARG poll with a post on Truth Social that took aim at Haley, using his nickname for her.

“Fake New Hampshire poll was released on Birdbrain. Just another scam!” Trump wrote. 

He also took a shot at New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who endorsed Haley on Dec. 12.

“Sununu now one of the least popular governors in U.S.,” Trump contended.

Meanwhile, the main super PAC supporting Trump begin airing an attack ad against Haley this week in New Hampshire. 

Haley’s allies cast the decision as evidence that Trump’s backers are getting worried about the inroads she is making.

Speaking of the overall battle for the nomination, Haley campaign spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas told this column, “It’s clear this is a two-person race between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump. We look forward to seeing him on the debate stage.”

That looks likely to be a futile hope. 

Trump has declined to participate in any of the four televised debates so far. 

There is no particular reason to think he will change his mind for the other three clashes that are scheduled — on Jan. 10 in Iowa and Jan. 21 in New Hampshire, both hosted by CNN; or on Jan. 18 in New Hampshire, hosted by ABC News.

To be sure, Trump is exceptionally well placed in the broader battle for the GOP nomination.

Aside from his 50-point national lead, he is more than 30 points clear in Iowa, according to the polling average maintained by data site FiveThirtyEight.

Trump is also ahead of Haley in her native South Carolina by almost 30 points in the FiveThirtyEight average. South Carolina holds its primary on Feb. 24.

In addition, there is little reliable polling so far that incorporates reaction to Tuesday’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling, which found that Trump’s name should be removed from the Republican primary ballot in the state. The court said that the 14th Amendment, which bars people who have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” from holding office, disqualifies Trump from the presidency.

Republican voters may rally around Trump in the aftermath of the ruling, as they appeared to do around each of his four indictments earlier this year. 

Some Trump critics also fret about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s continued presence in the contest.

Christie is drawing about 12 percent support in New Hampshire. The New Jersey governor, the most fiercely anti-Trump voice in the race by far, is putting essentially all his effort into the state.

But there is little sign that even a strong finish in New Hampshire would catapult Christie into real contention overall. Instead, he appears to be splitting part of the non-Trump vote with Haley.

“I don’t quite understand why Chris Christie is still in the race,” said one New Hampshire GOP strategist, who is not aligned with any candidate but requested anonymity to speak candidly.

“As someone who is not a Trump person, I appreciate the points Chris Christie is making but he has demonstrated that there is no real path for him to get the nomination.”

There is one final complication, however — one that could help Haley.

Registered voters in New Hampshire can categorize themselves as Republican, Democratic or “undeclared.” Undeclared voters can simply show up on primary day and request a ballot for whichever race they want to vote in.

At the last count, according to the New Hampshire Bulletin, there were about 344,000 undeclared voters, compared to about 270,000 Republicans and approximately 265,000 Democrats.

This fact alone gives the primary inherent unpredictability — and, in effect, advantages candidates with crossover appeal like Haley over more polarizing figures such as Trump.

When all is said and done, Trump remains the leader in New Hampshire — and everywhere else. But now it’s game on in the Granite State.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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