With just a week and a half to go until the Iowa caucuses kick off the Republican presidential nominating calendar, the war of words between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is reaching fever pitch.
DeSantis and Haley are neck and neck for second in the latest polls in the Hawkeye State, far behind former President Donald Trump, who remains the commanding frontrunner for the GOP nomination as he makes his third straight White House run.
But Haley has soared in recent months, catching up with DeSantis for second place not only in Iowa but also in national surveys, and surpassing the Florida governor and narrowing the gap with Trump in the latest polls in the New Hampshire primary, which will be held just eight days after the caucuses.
Campaigning in Milford, New Hampshire, on Wednesday, Haley told the large crowd listening to her that “we have an opportunity to get this right. And I know we’ll get it right, and I trust you. I trust every single one of you. You know how to do this. You know Iowa starts it. You know that you correct it.”
Pointing to her home state, which on Feb. 24 will hold the first southern contest in the Republican presidential primary schedule, Haley added “and then my sweet state of South Carolina brings it home.”
The comment appeared to be tailored to Granite Staters, and the crowd cheered Haley’s remarks.
Recent political history backs up Haley’s comment. The past three winners of the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses – former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania in 2012, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in 2016 – all came up short the next week in New Hampshire. And none of them went on to win the GOP nomination.
Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the winner of the 2000 Iowa GOP caucuses, also lost the following week in New Hampshire, but went on to capture the nomination and then the White House.
Haley has placed plenty of emphasis on a strong finish in New Hampshire, and her upward momentum in the state has accelerated since she landed the endorsement last month of popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who joins her at each of her campaign stops.
But she’s also spent plenty of time and resources in Iowa, and returns to the state on Thursday. Since launching her campaign last February, Haley’s held roughly 150 town halls, just about equally divided between Iowa and New Hampshire.
But another popular GOP governor, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, didn’t seem to care for Haley’s remark.
Reynolds, who endorsed DeSantis in November, took to social media soon after Haley’s comment grabbed attention to write, “I trust Iowans to make their own decisions. No ‘corrections’ needed!”
And DeSantis campaign communications director Andrew Romeo charged that Haley’s “closing argument is insulting Iowans by saying their votes will need to be corrected.”
“Meanwhile, Ron DeSantis is closing strong in Iowa by outworking and outorganizing the competition day in and day out,” Romeo added.
While he’s spent plenty of time in New Hampshire, DeSantis appears to be staking his campaign on a strong finish in Iowa.
“We’re going to win here in Iowa. We have the organization in place,” DeSantis told Fox News Digital in an interview last month.
DeSantis predicted that the caucus results “will be very clarifying in terms of who is the real deal and who is not.”
Haley has been careful not to state what kind of finish she expects in either Iowa or New Hampshire.
“I need to be strong in Iowa, strong in New Hampshire, strong in South Carolina. That’s what I intend to do,” Haley said Tuesday in a Fox News Digital interview.
But the next day, Sununu made some predictions.
“We know Trump is going to win the caucus in Iowa,” Sununu said at a Haley campaign event in Londonderry, New Hampshire. “But again, Nikki coming in second place when nobody thought it could happen, that’s going to happen and give her even more momentum.”
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