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New Hampshire primary is now a contest between Trump and Haley

Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event at the Alpine Grove Event Center in Hollis, NH. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Jesse Costa / WBUR
Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event at the Alpine Grove Event Center in Hollis, NH. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

For Nikki Haley, it's all about New Hampshire now. As she challenges Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, Haley is sharpening her attacks on him in these final days before the state's primary.

The former Tea Party governor of South Carolina, who served as Trump's U.N. Ambassador, usually only goes so far in criticizing her former boss. But speaking to a packed town hall event in Hollis on Thursday, Haley said if elected president, she would lead in a very different way.

"At the end of the day, it's the drama and the vengeance and the vindictiveness that we want to get out of the way," she said to applause.

Following a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses Monday, Haley is hoping to rebound in New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation Republican primary on Tuesday. A number of recent polls show her within striking distance of the former president, though the most recent survey shows Trump with a substantial lead.

Supporters watch and listen while Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event at the Alpine Grove Event Center in Hollis, NH. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Jesse Costa / WBUR
Supporters watch and listen while Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event at the Alpine Grove Event Center in Hollis, NH. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, one of Haley's biggest cheerleaders in the state, kicked off the event in Hollis, saying the contest is now a "two-person race” between Haley and Trump.

"The whole country is watching," Sununu said. "They're waiting for New Hampshire to get it right."

In fact, it’s not quite a two-person race. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is still running, but he's been polling in the single digits in New Hampshire. After a distant second-place finish in Iowa, he's looking ahead, already spending time in South Carolina, while Haley remains focused on her effort to beat Trump in the moderate Granite State.

Haley, 51, says she's a "new generational leader," and that next Tuesday's vote will be a choice between her or “more of the same."

"Over 70% of Americans don't want to see a Trump-Biden rematch," Haley said. "The majority of Americans don't want to see two 80-year-olds battling it out for president."

Nikki Haley supporters applaud during her speech during a campaign event at the Alpine Grove Event Center in Hollis, NH. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Jesse Costa / WBUR
Nikki Haley supporters applaud during her speech during a campaign event at the Alpine Grove Event Center in Hollis, NH. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

While Trump is counting on the conservative Republican base to back his third White House bid, Haley needs the support of voters like Carole and Larry Dehaven of Hollis, both of whom say they are independents who supported Biden in 2020 and now strongly oppose Trump. Carole Dehaven said she has made up her mind to vote for Haley and is hoping that voters "take into account Trump's history."

"I think she can beat Trump," she said.

But her husband is still undecided. He said he wants more assurance that Haley represents a clean break from Trump.

"People are afraid of an autocracy, and you've already heard from Trump that that's exactly what he wants to do," Dehaven said. "She needs to really let people know that this is their chance to save a democracy."

Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley greets supporters during a campaign event at the Alpine Grove Event Center in Hollis, NH. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Jesse Costa / WBUR
Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley greets supporters during a campaign event at the Alpine Grove Event Center in Hollis, NH. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

For his part, Trump spent the week ping-ponging between court appearances in New York and rallies in New Hampshire. He's facing defamation charges brought by writer E. Jean Carroll after an earlier trial found he had sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. Beyond that, he faces 91 criminal indictments across four other federal and state cases, including allegations that he tried to subvert the 2020 election. At a rally in Atkinson, Tuesday evening, Trump bragged about his legal jeopardy.

"I've been indicted more than Alphonse Capone," Trump said to a roar of laughter and applause.

Haley's status as Trump's most serious challenger is reflected in his barrage of daily attacks on her in speeches and press releases. He warns his supporters that Haley is counting on independents and even some Democrats to vote for her, and that she's appealing to never-Trump Republicans, whom Trump dismisses as "RINOs," meaning 'Republicans In Name Only'.

"That's not what the Republican party is about," he said.

Trump has been touting his victory in Iowa and urging his backers in New Hampshire to get to the polls next week. Brian Nadeau of Raymond, who attended the rally in Atkinson this week said he's supporting the former president because he believes Trump has already proven he can do the job. That included keeping the country out of war, and "bringing people into the country the legal way, the right way, and not just opening the borders,” according to Nadeau."Look at New York City — it's a mess," he said. "What are we going to do with all these people?"Trump hopes a win next Tuesday will be a big step toward locking up the nomination quickly. If Haley can't catch him in a moderate state like New Hampshire, it will only get more difficult for her in the states that vote next.

This segment aired on January 19, 2024.

This story was originally published by WBUR. It was shared as part of the New England News Collaborative.