MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Nikki Haley, the last major GOP opponent of Donald Trump, insisted she would not drop out if she loses Tuesday's New Hampshire primary to the former president, who aimed for a commanding victory to make a November rematch with President Joe Biden more likely than ever.
Trump's allies were already ramping up pressure on the former U.N. ambassador to leave the race if she falls by a large margin. Haley has focused considerable resources on New Hampshire, hoping to capitalize on the state’s independent streak as she looks for an upset or at least a tight loss that could dent Trump’s continued domination of Republican politics.
“I’m running against Donald Trump, and I’m not going to talk about an obituary,” Haley told reporters.
Trump countered, “Let her do whatever she wants," saying voters will deliver the nomination to him anyway. His aides have argued for several days that Haley has no realistic path if she loses in New Hampshire.
If Trump wins New Hampshire, he would be the first Republican presidential candidate to prevail in open races in Iowa and New Hampshire since both states began leading the election calendar in 1976 — a sign of his continued grip on the party’s most loyal voters and a suggestion that he would extend his winning streak no matter how long Haley remained in the race.
He won New Hampshire’s Republican primary big during his first run for president in 2016, though some of his allies lost key races here during the midterms two years ago. Haley has to contend with an opponent who has a deep bond with the GOP base and has concentrated on winning New Hampshire decisively enough that it would end the competitive phase of the Republican nomination battle.
There was a Democratic New Hampshire primary, too, but it was unsanctioned. Biden wasn’t on that ballot, opting for his party’s formal primary to start in South Carolina on Feb. 3.
Were Haley to drop out after Tuesday, that would effectively decide the GOP primary on its second stop, well before the vast majority of Republican voters across the country have been able to vote.
About half of New Hampshire GOP voters said they were very or somewhat concerned that Trump is too extreme to win the general election. Only about one-third said the same about Haley.
Regarding Trump’s criminal indictments, about one-third of GOP participants in New Hampshire believe the former president has done something illegal related to his alleged attempt to interfere in the vote count in the 2020 presidential election, his role in what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, or the classified documents found at his Florida home after he left the White House.
Trump won the Iowa caucuses by 30 points. Haley finished third, behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who ended his campaign on Sunday. Next month's South Carolina primary is the next state where both Trump and Haley would compete. Haley was twice elected governor of her home state, but almost every top elected Republican in South Carolina backs Trump.
Her campaign manager circulated a memo Tuesday to donors, supporters and media arguing that it was too early to dismiss her path forward — while also tamping down expectations for New Hampshire.
“The political class and the media want to give Donald Trump a coronation,” Betsy Ankney wrote in the memo, first reported by The New York Times. “They say the race is over. They want to throw up their hands, after only 110,000 people have voted in a caucus in Iowa and say, well, I guess it’s Trump. That isn’t how this works.”
About 40% of New Hampshire’s registered voters are not affiliated by party, and they can vote in either primary. That opens Haley's potential coalition to more right-leaning voters who dislike Trump and even Democratic-leaning voters who want to oppose Trump or vent frustrations over Biden, who declined to campaign in his party's unsanctioned primary here after championing a new calendar that puts South Carolina first.
Laurie Dufour was among the independents who opted for Haley on Tuesday. She said she votes most often for Democrats and would vote for Biden “in a heartbeat” over Trump in a general election, though she said she wished Biden would consider stepping aside due to his age.
“I did not want Trump and she just sounded very knowledgeable,” the 66-year-old said.
Trump, meanwhile, continued to look ahead. He declined Tuesday to say whether he had spoken to DeSantis since he dropped out, and he wouldn't comment on the possibility of asking DeSantis to be his running mate. He did say he is willing to smooth things over with rivals once they've exited the campaign.
Scot Stebbins Sr., who attended a Monday evening Trump rally in a Make America Great Again baseball cap, called him “the greatest president we’ve had since Abraham Lincoln. He said he thought the four criminal cases and 91 felony counts Trump are facing constituted “a witch hunt.”
With temperatures above freezing across the most populous parts of the state, weather has not been the same deterrent for voters as it was in Iowa, which had the coldest caucus day on record with icy roads and temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
The Democratic primary, meanwhile, was unlike any in recent memory.
Biden championed new Democratic National Committee rules that have the party's 2024 primary process beginning in South Carolina, rather than in Iowa or New Hampshire. He argued that Black voters, the party’s most reliable constituency and a critical part of his win in South Carolina that revived his 2020 primary campaign after three opening loses, should have a larger and earlier role in determining its nominee.
New Hampshire’s Democrats, citing state laws dictating that their state hold the nation’s first primary after Iowa’s caucuses, defied the revamped order and pushed ahead with their primary as scheduled.
Biden 's New Hampshire absence means Democrats could vote for two little-known major primary challengers, Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and self-help author Marianne Williamson. Still, many of the state's top Democrats backed a write-in campaign that they expected Biden to handily win.
Instead of focusing on New Hampshire, Biden joined Vice President Kamala Harris in northern Virginia for a rally in defense of abortion rights, which Democrats see as a winning issue for them across the country in November.
There's a growing sense of inevitability around November being a reprisal of Biden versus Trump. Both men have been criticized by their opponents over age — Biden is 81, Trump 77 — and each has painted the other as unfit for another White House term.
Public opinion polls suggest most Americans oppose a rematch. An AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in December found that 56% of U.S. adults would be very or somewhat dissatisfied with Biden as the Democratic nominee — and 58% felt the same about Trump as the GOP pick.
Colvin reported from Londonderry, New Hampshire. Weissert reported from Washington. The AP's Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Joseph Frederick in Franklin, New Hampshire, and Mike Pesoli in Laconia, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.