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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

In Michigan, Nikki Haley warns Trump can’t win in November

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and a Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign event in Troy, Mich., on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

By Jazmine Ulloa

Nikki Haley, fresh off another defeat by former President Donald Trump, brought her sputtering campaign Sunday to Michigan, warning that even if Trump clinches the 2024 Republican nomination he has too much baggage to win in November.

In a rally north of Detroit, just a day after a 20-point loss in South Carolina, her home state, Haley continued to spin her defeat as a troubling sign not for herself but for her opponent, saying that she represented a significant 40% of Republican voters that the incumbent president could not tear away. (The latest results from South Carolina’s primary show her finishing at 39.5% to Trump’s 59.8%.)

“You can’t have a candidate who’s going to win a primary who can’t win a general,” she insisted to nods of approval and applause from hundreds of people packed into a hotel ballroom in Troy, Michigan.

The general election pitch is one that Haley has been making for months — and one that could prove potent in Michigan, a battleground state. But Haley is facing an uphill climb in Michigan, just as she is in the other swing states that she is expected to visit this week ahead of upcoming primary contests.

Trump narrowly lost Michigan to Joe Biden in 2020 after a presidential term alienating independents and suburban women, the segments of the electorate that make up a strong part of Haley’s small but not insignificant base. And her campaign has counted the state as one of more than a dozen that are crucial to her path to the nomination because they have primaries not limited to registered Republicans.

But the difficulty for Haley in Michigan, which holds its primary today, is similar to that in the early-voting states: She’s running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, and the base is sticking with him. The strength she has shown with more moderate voters, even Democrats, has not been enough to overcome his significant advantage.

Richard Czuba, an independent pollster in Lansing, Michigan, said the state had a long history of Republican and Democratic voters crossing over in presidential primaries to upend contests and send a message. But he predicted little chance of that for Haley. The results of the state’s Republican primary this year are seemingly such a foregone conclusion, mostly thanks to Trump’s dominance, that his polling firm had even stopped bothering to survey voters, he added.

“There is no race,” he said.

Haley’s campaign only began running its first television advertisements in the state last week, targeting the Detroit area with part of what her staff said was a half-million-dollar buy in the state. Her allied super political action committee reported spending another $500,000 for ads in the Michigan market as of Saturday, according to federal filings.

Haley arrived in the state with little to no momentum. While she has continued to amass donations — she collected $1 million from grassroots supporters in less than 24 hours after her loss in the South Carolina primary, according to her campaign — Americans for Prosperity Action, the political network created by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, announced Sunday that it would no longer be spending in support of her run. Haley is expected to hold more fundraisers while on her cross-country campaign swing this week.

In interviews Sunday, many of Haley’s supporters said they were grateful that she was keeping up the fight. Some were fed up with Trump’s grip on the party and on Michigan Republicans, and they worried that his mercurial nature and slew of legal troubles did not bode well for the future of the nation. None of them wanted a Trump-Biden rematch in November.

“Trump’s in a huge amount of problems just in the courts,” said Denise McDonald, 65, a retired pensions plan manager, “and both he and Biden walk a fine line just by their age.”

Onstage, Haley echoed Biden’s promises during the 2020 presidential election to return normalcy to U.S. politics if elected, saying that she was “talking about the heart and soul of our country.” As she has since the field winnowed to two candidates, from more than a dozen, she continued her sharp attacks on Trump, criticizing him over increasing the national debt, warming up to dictators, promoting an isolationist foreign policy and seeking to influence the Republican National Committee.

“He’s not going to get the 40% by trying to take over the RNC so that it pays all legal fees,” she said. “He’s not going to get the 40% if he is not willing to change and do something that acknowledges the 40%. And why should the 40% have to take to him?”

Her loss in South Carolina on Saturday was her first ever in the state, where she rose to become its first female governor. Though she outperformed the polls there, drawing just below 40% of the vote, she still did not meet her own benchmark: She did not do better than the 43% support she received in New Hampshire in January. In her election night speech and in a video released Sunday, pledging to keep up the fight, Haley argued the percentages were about the same, casting herself as the voice for the people seeking an alternative to a Trump-Biden rematch.

Polls in the states she is expected to visit this week, including Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Utah and Virginia, show her lagging far behind Trump.

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