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Haley’s homestand

South Carolina voters are divided ahead of Saturday’s Republican primary


Nikki Haley during a campaign event in North Augusta, S.C., on Wednesday Getty Images/Photo by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Haley’s homestand

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C.—Nikki Haley won an election that toppled a popular 30-year legislator in her party in 2010 when she defeated Larry Koon for a state representative seat. In 2011, she ran as a dark horse candidate against the lieutenant governor, then-attorney general Henry McMaster, and special interest groups the outgoing governor funded to oppose her. Haley went on to win reelection by a 14.5-point margin in 2014. Her constituents said they liked her approach and policies, even if the State House chafed under her leadership.

As governor, Haley published “report cards” for lawmakers and gave low grades to fellow Republicans if they did not vote for her priorities such as proposed tax cuts. She also helped promote politicians who helped pass her agenda items. Now, most of the state legislature has given her the cold shoulder and endorsed former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination. Haley says she surprised the state before and can do it again.

“Look at this past year, it’s very telling,” Haley told supporters crammed into the local municipal building. “We started with 14 people in this race. I debated a dozen of the fellas, I just have one more fella I gotta catch up to. They said we wouldn’t make it to Iowa and we came within 1 percent of second place. They said we were down in the polls [in New Hampshire] on election day by 30 points, and we came in with 43 percent of the vote.”

Haley has about 30 percent of primary voters’ support in statewide polls, up significantly from single-digit support last year but still far behind Trump at 64 percent. In North Augusta, her supporters ranged from lifelong South Carolinians to Georgians who crossed the nearby border to check out the candidate. Haley began her speech, as she has with most South Carolina stops, with a retelling of her record as governor. She touted economic reforms that cut taxes and added jobs, as well as hard-fought legislative reforms like making voting records public.

“She acts decent. She cares about people,” said Rob Judy, a North Augusta voter who cast his ballot earlier that day. “Trump’s talking about always looking out for himself, saying whatever he can to get back in office. I liked his policies, but I don't like the way the man acts.”

Other voters also expressed concern that Trump is too controversial or immoral to be president, even though they like his policies and would vote for him in a general election. A few told me that if Haley drops out, they will not vote in November.

“I feel right now that he’s very vindictive, and that he does not have the best interest of the country at heart,” said Malorie Novak, a program director at Augusta University. “He has his own agenda. I liked that he does seem to keep America first. And I think that he was good with foreign policy, but Nikki is very strong in that way, too. She has a lot more experience than people give her credit for. She’ll put our country back on track.”

State Rep. Bart Blackwell introduced Haley in North Augusta, listing three main reasons he supports her: experience, electability, and character.

“No. 3, this is the most important thing to me, and I suspect this is probably one of the most important things to many of you, is the character to be president, like integrity, honesty, decency, respect, respectability, responsibility, accountability, trustworthiness, empathy, compassion, understanding, and the list goes on,” he told the crowd to applause. “She has the character to make us proud of our president once again.”

Blackwell is one of the only state lawmakers endorsing Haley. He took office after Haley left the governorship to serve as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. He told me that his peers like their former governor, but they are storing up goodwill with Trump in case they need it in a second Trump presidency.

Meanwhile, Trump’s events focus heavily on attacking President Joe Biden and criticizing the pending Justice Department legal cases against him. This week, Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham interviewed Trump in Greenville, S.C., at a town hall meeting. When asked about the recent death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, Trump lamented Navalny’s death and compared the suspicious political workings of the Kremlin to his own situation with the Justice Department.

“And it’s a horrible thing, but it’s happening in our country, too,” he said. “They indicted me on things that are so ridiculous. It is a form of Navalny. It is a form of communism, of fascism.”

On Monday, Trump also posted about Navalny’s death, and he drew a line from Russia’s lack of freedom of speech to American politics. He often says the country is “a nation in decline” until he returns to the White House.

Former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has stumped for Trump in South Carolina. He toured a fiberglass manufacturing plant in Aiken, S.C., on Wednesday before speaking to a crowd of roughly 150. He outlined the 2024 election not as a political game, but something deeper.

“This is a war between those of us who love the United States and its ideals and a fringe minority who hates us and what we stand for,” Ramaswamy said. “We need a commander-in-chief who can lead us to victory in this war, and that man is Donald Trump.”

He criticized Haley’s record for allowing Chinese-owned companies to operate in South Carolina. He also repeated claims that she is not conservative, but rather, beholden to wealthy—and probably liberal—donors.

“It’s America First versus America Last, not Republicans versus Democrats,” he said. “I’m asking you to stand up for the United States of America because that’s what is at stake in this primary and in November at the ballot box.”

The Roudebush family recently moved from California to South Carolina. They enjoyed their new early primary state advantage and cast two votes for Trump on Wednesday.

“[Haley] is bought and paid for by the swamp,” Jack Roudebush said. “The swamp is China, corporations, Democrats, and Republicans. She stands for herself. And Trump does to a degree, but he’s at least putting America first.”

His wife Lori added that she considers Trump a moral choice. Her top issues this election are border security, energy independence, and protecting family values. She called a vote for Trump “the right thing to do.

“Trump might not be for everyone, but just look at what he did in his first term with 51 percent of the country against him,” Jack argued.

“He’s totally proven himself,” Lori said. “But we’re at a precipice. We moved here because of [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom’s failed policies and we don’t want that for our country.”

Chuck and Sheila Patton attended Haley’s and Ramaswamy’s speeches on Wednesday. Retired nuclear plant workers, they have always lived in South Carolina and plan to vote for Trump for a third time on Saturday. But they said they wish Haley had a better chance.

“I have a lot of good to say about Nikki Haley. But I believe Donald Trump is one that's going to have a chance to make a difference,” Chuck said. “I like his past record of what he did for the country. I have no faith in what the current party administration has done other than destroy our country.”

The Pattons said that their overall goal is to remove Biden from office. Even though they like Haley, they feel more secure with Trump.


Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.

@CarolinaLumetta


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