Nikki Haley suggests she'll stay in Republican race after South Carolina

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By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley on Sunday accused party leaders of not being honest brokers in her campaign against Donald Trump and said she did not have to win the nominating contest in South Carolina to stay in the race.

Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told NBC's Meet the Press that the former president would become even more "unhinged" as the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination progressed.

Haley is trying to gain momentum against Trump after coming in third place behind him in the Iowa caucuses and second place in New Hampshire.

Both are now seeking victory in South Carolina, where Haley once served as governor. Trump is far head of Haley in the polls, but Haley said she did not necessarily need to win her home state to keep going. The Republican primary takes place on Feb. 24.

"I need to show that I'm building momentum. I need to show that I'm stronger in South Carolina than New Hampshire," she said. "Does that have to be a win? I don't think that necessarily has to be a win. But it certainly has to be better than what I did in New Hampshire and it certainly has to be close."

Republican heavyweights have thrown their support behind Trump, who has long been the frontrunner for the nomination, but the RNC stepped back from a proposal to declare him the presumptive nominee. A proposal to declare him as such was withdrawn last week after Trump soured on the idea.

Asked if the RNC had been an honest broker on the issue, Haley said no.

"Clearly not," Haley told NBC. "If you're going to go ... and basically tell the American people that you're going to go and decide who the nominee is after only two states have voted...this is a democracy. The American people want to have their say in who is going to be their nominee."

Trump has repeatedly attacked Haley and the two have traded barbs over his age in recent days after he made some verbal slip-ups, while RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel has said she does not see a path forward for Haley in the race.

Haley, the only remaining challenger in the race against Trump, has stepped up her attacks against him in recent weeks.

She said the former president, who faces multiple criminal charges, including for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, will remain distracted by his legal challenges, though she said his legal problems were not her reason for staying in the race.

"I've never stayed in this race because of court cases," she said. "Look, he's insecure. He's threatened. He sees what's happening and he knows these court cases are going to take him further and further away from the campaign trail."

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Aurora Ellis)