CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — After Donald Trump’s record victory in the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire voters now get their turn to decide just how competitive the Republican nominating fight will be as the former president continues to dominate his party.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis face mounting pressure to improve on their distant finishes in Monday’s caucuses that kicked off 2024 presidential voting. They have a one−week sprint ahead of next Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire, where voters pride themselves for their independent streak as longtime hosts of the nation’s first Republican presidential primary.
Trump, DeSantis and Haley each have New Hampshire stops scheduled on Tuesday. Trump first went to New York to appear at a civil defamation trial stemming from a columnist’s claims he sexually attacked her. DeSantis stopped in South Carolina — Haley’s home state — before heading to New Hampshire.
Haley, a former South Carolina governor, leaned directly into New Hampshire’s reputation for independence on Tuesday, launching a statewide television ad hitting both Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden ahead of her arrival in the state.
“The two most disliked politicians in America,” the ad calls them, painting the 81−year−old president and 77−year−old former president together as being “consumed by chaos, negativity and grievance of the past.”
In South Carolina, DeSantis dismissed Haley’s attempts to frame the campaign as a battle between her and Trump. Addressing a few hundred people in Greenville, DeSantis panned Haley’s performance as governor. His Florida record, he argued, yielded more support from Iowa conservatives, adding that Haley is “depending on Democrats to change their registration.”
It is true that Haley has tried to attract both moderates turned off by Trump and conservatives who still like the former president but are open to someone else. The approach helped Haley win one Iowa county – Johnson – that is the state’s most Democratic county and includes the liberal college town of Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. Trump won Iowa’s 98 other counties. DeSantis, who styles himself more as a Trumpian conservative, did not win any county outright.
In New Hampshire, meanwhile, the GOP primary is open only to registered Republicans and voters who registered without a party affiliation, a group that comprises about 40% of voters. Democrats cannot participate. The registration deadline was in October.
As for Trump, DeSantis acknowledged the former president’s advantage, calling him “basically an incumbent,” while at the same time trying to minimize his performance in Iowa.
“Half the people wanted someone else,” DeSantis said. Trump, in fact, stood at 51% with 99% of the vote counted, more than DeSantis’ 21.2% and Haley’s 19.1% combined.
Enthusiasm for Trump, meanwhile, was on display in Atkinson, New Hampshire, where voters were standing in line outside a country club Tuesday afternoon in the sleet and blowing snow, hours before the former president was due for his first rally of the final stretch.
Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire politics expert, said Haley and DeSantis faced distinct challenges.
DeSantis has been “out of sight and out of mind” for most New Hampshire voters, the professor said, because of how much time he spent in Iowa. Now DeSantis has the basic task of reintroducing himself, Scala said, and proving he is a factor, even with his second−place finish in the caucuses.
Haley, who has prioritized New Hampshire as a potential springboard to her home state’s primary, must take the next step against Trump.
“The day after the Iowa caucuses, there’s this sense of inevitability around Donald Trump,” Scala said. “What Nikki Haley has to do over the next seven days is puncture that feeling of inevitability, not just among Trump voters but among her own voters.”
Reflecting those stakes, Haley urged Trump on Tuesday to join her on the debate stage Thursday in New Hampshire after skipping previous events throughout the early primary campaign.
“He has nowhere left to hide,” she said in a statement.
Trump has said he would debate Biden in a general election and previously left the door open for a primary debate only if a GOP rival were genuinely close to him in polls. Some surveys taken in New Hampshire before the Iowa caucuses have suggested Haley is considerably closer to Trump than she finished in Iowa.
Haley’s and DeSantis’ tacks coming out of Iowa are reflective of the support they drew in the caucuses.
According to AP VoteCast data that surveyed more than 1,500 caucus participants, Haley was the top candidate of the most anti−Trump Republicans in Iowa, including those who believe the former president did something illegal in one of the pending criminal cases against him. She was also the top choice for those who voted for Biden in the 2020 election.
In total, less than half of her supporters in Iowa said they voted for Trump in 2020, with the remainder supporting Biden, saying they supported a third party candidate or that they stayed home.
DeSantis, meanwhile, performed best among the caucusgoers dissatisfied with Trump but who said they would ultimately vote for him in the general election. Most Iowa caucusgoers for either Haley or DeSantis say they would be dissatisfied with Trump as their party’s nominee. But unlike DeSantis’ backers, two−thirds of Haley’s caucusgoers say they would not ultimately vote for Trump in the general election.
Still, catching Trump in New Hampshire will require either a much higher turnout among anti−Trump voters or convincing those voters who are still sympathetic to switch loyalties.
Once solidly Republican, New Hampshire has become a genuine two−party state over the last few decades, with a penchant for picking one party for governor and the other for members of Congress. The state currently has an all−Democratic congressional delegation but a Republican governor and GOP−controlled Legislature.
Trump won the 2016 and 2020 GOP primaries here but lost the state in the general election both years.
If there is an opening for DeSantis and Haley, it could be forecast in Trump’s weakness in the Iowa suburbs, where he won only a third of the votes. Iowa’s suburbs are more educated and less evangelical than the state’s rural and small−town population that Trump dominated. New Hampshire’s Republican electorate as a whole is more reflective of Iowa’s suburban population.
Still, even with Trump’s lag in the Iowa suburbs, he finished slightly ahead of both of DeSantis and Haley in those areas, according to AP VoteCast.
___ Barrow reported from Atlanta. Collins reported from Greenville, South Carolina. AP Director of Public Opinion Research Emily Swanson in Washington and Michelle L. Price in Atkinson, New Hampshire, contributed.
Holly Ramer, Bill Barrow And Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press