Nikki Haley's road to the White House will be difficult, but she has a key polling advantage her rivals lack.
Nikki Haley faces a number of challenges — namely Donald Trump — as she runs for the White House.
But the ex-South Carolina governor remains unknown to many Republicans, which could boost her bid.
Haley has a positive favorability rating among prospective GOP primary voters, per Morning Consult.
When former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley took to the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this month, she pitched her nascent presidential campaign as one that would represent the future of the Republican Party.
"We've lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections," she told attendees during her speech in Oxon Hill, Md., just outside the nation's capital. "Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. That ends now."
Haley, who served as US Ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, made the bold pronouncement as she finds herself in the daunting position of being the only other major candidate in the 2024 Republican presidential field besides her former boss.
While Trump — unsurprisingly — dominated the CPAC straw poll vote with 62% support, Haley found herself earning only 3% of the vote, behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with 20% of the vote and Michigan businessman Perry Johnson at 5% support.
And when Haley took photos with individuals after her speech, groups of conference attendees chanted Trump's name near where she was standing, sending her a clear message as she goes up against the former president, who remains enormously popular among the sort of party grassroots activists that attend CPAC.
Haley, a trailblazing Indian American politician who cut her teeth in one of the most conservative states in the country, isn't winning over large blocs of Republicans at the moment given Trump's continued strength within the GOP and the intraparty intrigue with DeSantis' potential candidacy.
But the former governor still has the potential to overcome her current standing as the Republican primary season heats up. Haley is still unknown to many voters, which means she'll have the opportunity to define herself, and with Trump concerned with more immediate threats from the likes of DeSantis and his own vice president, she'll have time to do that.
And if it works, she could position herself as a forward-thinking leader who can move the GOP past the tumult of the 2020 presidential election.
Haley remains a blank slate to many voters
When Haley was elected governor of South Carolina in 2010, she immediately became one of the highest-profile Republicans in a party that was starved for minority leaders, especially after Democrats in 2008 chose then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as their party's first Black presidential nominee.
With Obama's tenure in the White House overlapping with much of Haley's tenure in the Palmetto State, she sought to contrast her conservatism with policies at the national level, seeking to lure businesses to the state and fighting against labor unions.
But she left the governor's mansion in January 2017 to assume her ambassadorship at a time when Trump was starting to assume control over larger parts of the party from his perch in the Oval Office. By the end of his term, Trump remained the dominant force in the party headed into 2024, despite his loss to now-President Joe Biden and the political fallout from the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol.
So when Haley announced her presidential campaign in Charleston last month, it was in many ways a reintroduction of her record to a party that has essentially been defined by Trump since 2016.
In a Morning Consult poll conducted from February 16 through February 19, shortly after Haley's campaign announcement, 62% of potential GOP primary voters had a favorable impression of the former diplomat, compared to 11% who had a negative view; 14% of respondents had no opinion of her, while 13% of respondents stated that they'd never heard of the former governor.
By late February, roughly a third of Republicans either didn't know what to think of Haley or had no knowledge of the South Carolinian. And in a mid-March Morning Consult poll, Haley's favorability among GOP voters sat at 47%, while only 16% had an unfavorable view of her; roughly 1 in 5 respondents said they were unfamiliar with the ex-governor.
This may give Haley the opportunity to define her candidacy before Trump and other potential entrants, like DeSantis and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have the chance to do so.
Danielle Vinson, a professor of Politics and International Affairs at Furman University, told Insider that Haley being unknown to a significant swath of Republicans offers "both an opportunity and a challenge."
"It's a challenge because they've got to know her if she's going to run and if she's going to succeed," Vinson said. "There are other people that are in the race or seriously considering getting in the race that are better known than her. So she's going to have to overcome that quickly, but the potential is there."
"She will work hard. Nobody will outwork her when it comes to campaigning," Vinson continued. "She connects well with audiences. We may not necessarily see it nationally, but she's going to be on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire and other places. The more that voters see her, those numbers are going to change, and potentially in her favor."
A push to move beyond the 2020 election
Since November 2020, Trump has continued to question his election loss, alleging voter fraud despite no evidence of widespread malfeasance.
In 2022, he threw his support behind candidates that included Kari Lake, the 2022 Republican gubernatorial nominee in Arizona, and Kristina Karamo, the 2022 Republican secretary of state nominee in Michigan — both conservatives who vehemently disputed the results of the 2020 presidential election. Both lost their respective races.
While most political observers predicted that Democrats would likely endure substantial losses in the midterms due to historical precedent, the party in the end held the Senate, minimized major losses in the House, and won gubernatorial contests in the key swing states of Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Haley, meanwhile, is trying to leave 2020 in the past. She has tried to pitch her campaign as one rooted instead in the future, focusing heavily on the economy and railing against the state of the country's finances.
Such a message could potentially boost the GOP in the suburbs.
Under Trump — in both 2018 and 2020, for example — the GOP struggled with suburban voters, and Haley's vision for the future seeks to offer a clear break from those losses. Her CPAC comment about the popular vote points to what many Republicans have long desired, which is to regain their standing in communities where they once had solid support.
"Haley talks about her heritage as the child of Indian immigrants. That is a benefit to her, probably with educated suburban women, and those are the folks that abandoned Trump in 2020," Vinson said. "They're the ones who either stayed home or turned around and voted for Democrats in the 2018 midterms."
'A third of our debt happened under just two Republicans'
In a nod to Independents and more business-oriented Republicans, Haley called out politicians from both parties over government spending earlier this month while speaking at a donor retreat for the conservative Club for Growth.
"Here's the truth. Lots of Republican politicians love spending and wasting taxpayer money almost as much as Democrats," she told attendees at the Florida event.
"The last two Republican presidents added more than $10 trillion to the national debt," she continued to say, alluding to Trump and former President George W. Bush without directly naming them. "Think about that. A third of our debt happened under just two Republicans."
Haley has continued to lean into a message of fiscal restraint, saying during a Fox News interview earlier this month that it was "unrealistic to say you're not going to touch entitlements" — which would include Medicare and Social Security — for younger Americans now in their twenties.
With such a position, the former governor has set herself apart from potential competitors who may steer clear of discussing any major reforms to the government programs.
But Haley in the past has stood out even among her fellow Republicans.
When Haley first announced her gubernatorial campaign in South Carolina in 2009, some members of her own party weren't so quick to embrace her candidacy. But she still triumphed in the GOP primary the next year, campaigning as a fresh face untethered to the state's traditional political network.
And as she rallies Republicans in the primary contest, a message focused on the national debt with a less polarizing candidate at the top of the ticket could aid the party with critical blocs of Independent voters in a general election.
"Independent women are one of those groups that often decide these elections, and the last time around they didn't go for Trump," Vinson said. "Haley is someone that might be very attractive to them."
Read the original article on Business Insider