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In NH, Haley got her two-person race. She finished second, but vowed to fight on.

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley walks on stage to speak at a New Hampshire primary night rally, in Concord on Tuesday Jan. 23, 2024.
Charles Krupa
Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley walks on stage to speak at a New Hampshire primary night rally, in Concord on Tuesday Jan. 23, 2024.

After nearly a year of campaigning in New Hampshire, Nikki Haley fell short in Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary, failing to put together a coalition of voters strong enough to overcome former President Donald Trump’s base of support.

Though results were still being tallied, the Associated Press called the race in Trump’s favor moments after the final polls closed Tuesday night. With about three-quarters of all votes counted just before 11 p.m., Trump held a roughly 10-point lead over Haley.

Despite the loss, Haley vowed to keep fighting for the nomination.

“New Hampshire is first in the nation — it is not the last in the nation,” Haley told a roomful of cheering supporters minutes after the Associated Press called the race for Trump. "This race is far from over, there are dozens of states left to go, and the next one is my sweet state of South Carolina."

Haley and her allies vastly outspent Trump and his supporters in New Hampshire, dropping more than $30 million on television ads alone.

She was also bolstered by a door-knocking effort by Americans For Prosperity Action, a Koch-family funded conservative enterprise. On Tuesday night, the group tried to put a positive spin on Haley's loss, arguing that she's "closing the gap" and remains "the clear alternative for voters who are ready to close the book on the toxic Biden-Trump political era."

Haley’s strategy in New Hampshire hinged on Republican and independent voters who favored an alternative to Trump, who also won the 2016 and 2020 Republican primaries here. Some outside groups also urged Democrats to take advantage of New Hampshire’s open primary rules and switch their registration to vote for Haley, as a way to block Trump’s path to the nomination.

For months on the trail, Haley cautiously balanced her criticisms of the former president with the acknowledgement that she voted for him twice and served in his administration.

But in the final days of the campaign, Haley ramped up her attacks on both Trump and Biden, arguing the two men were too old and too weighed down by political baggage to lead the nation effectively.

“You know I’m right: Chaos follows him,” she said of Trump, at a Rye campaign stop earlier this month. “And we can’t be a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos, because we won’t survive it. You don’t fix Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.”

In the final six weeks before the New Hampshire primary, Haley campaigned with the enthusiastic backing of Gov. Chris Sununu, who barnstormed American Legion stages and small town eateries, and did plenty of national media interviews on her behalf.

Once the race was called Tuesday, though, Sununu was largely silent. He brushed off a reporter's request for comment on the results at Haley's election night event, saying he wasn't doing interviews that evening. Pressed for any reaction on the outcome, he allowed that he was "very happy, very very happy."

The governor's muted demeanor Tuesday evening stood in sharp contrast to his sunny campaigning for Haley in the final weeks of the race, as the pair worked to pitch her as Republicans’ best chance to win in November. Haley frequently touted polling numbers to make the case that she’d fare better than Trump in a November matchup against Biden.

That message appealed to some in New Hampshire who worry a Trump candidacy could hurt Republicans’ chances in down ballot races.

“We can’t win a November election unless we appeal to a broad base, not a narrow base,” state Sen. Bill Gannon, a Republican from Sandown, told NPR earlier Tuesday.

In New Hampshire, Haley’s pitch to voters focused largely on traditional conservative policy positions: increased support for the military, a reduction in government spending and entitlement reforms, and giving parents more choice in their children’s education. On foreign policy, Haley took a more interventionist tack than some of her rivals, arguing the U.S. needs to play a role in supporting Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia. She also argued that she was best prepared to take on a Chinese government that, she said, views America as an enemy.

Haley also tried to walk a fine line on abortion rights in New Hampshire. She said she would have supported a six-week ban on the procedure as governor but rarely made the issue part of her stump speech. Recently, she said she wanted to “quit demonizing the issue.”

Some of Haley’s biggest applause lines throughout the campaign, however, had less to do with what she would do if she won the Oval Office, and more to do with the previous and current occupants. She positioned herself as a steadier force, one capable of meeting the county’s economic challenges as well as securing its position on the global stage.

In the final days of the primary, many of her New Hampshire supporters were energized by Haley's vows to usher in a new political era.

“I think she’s able to get more people together, instead of divide," said Bedford voter Jed Sanpietro, who attended a Haley rally Sunday evening in Exeter. "Trump is either one way or the other; it is very binary,”

Jack Carson, a Nashua Community College student and undeclared voter from Milford, said his vote for Haley was also largely a vote against Trump.

“For this one, I just felt like it was important for Trump not to be the person going in,” Carson said.

Tuesday’s results showed, however, that the core of the Republican Party still leans towards Trump, who now moves onto the South Carolina primary with two decisive early state wins in his favor.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.