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Nikki Haley launches 2024 Republican presidential bid, the first to challenge Trump

In this photo from Jan. 20 Nikki Haley visits “Hannity” show at Fox News Channel Studios in New York City.  (Tribune News Service)
By Mark Niquette Bloomberg News

Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, announced she was challenging the former president for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, claiming the mantle of younger leadership.

“It’s time for a new generation of leadership – to rediscover fiscal responsibility, secure our border, and strengthen our country, our pride and our purpose,” Haley said in a video Tuesday announcing her run.

Haley, 51, is the first after Trump to jump into the race, hoping to carve out a lane as a fresh face in a party that has suffered losses in recent elections. But that lane is likely to be crowded.

Several Republicans are expected to challenge Trump, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 44, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, 57.

Haley is highlighting the contrast with President Joe Biden, 80, who is expected to seek a second term, and Trump, 76, who is trying to return to the White House after losing a reelection bid in 2020 that was capped by his supporters waging a deadly riot on the U.S. Capitol to overturn his defeat.

But she faces an uphill battle to dethrone Trump without a large national profile and a history of waffling on her former boss. A Jan. 24 Emerson College poll showed Trump with 55% of the vote in a potentially crowded primary field, with DeSantis at 29%, former Vice President Mike Pence at 6% and Haley at just 3%.

A Monmouth University Poll released last week showed Trump and DeSantis as the clear preferences among GOP voters right now, with Haley and other potential candidates mentioned by only a handful of survey participants.

Haley has flip-flopped on the former president, who, though weakened, maintains a significant grip on the GOP. She opposed him in 2016 before joining his administration, and she criticized Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection before saying in 2021 that she wouldn’t run in 2024 if Trump did. But she laid the groundwork for a presidential run last year, including actively campaigning for GOP candidates across the U.S., and said the disappointing Republican midterm performance altered the landscape.

“Republicans have lost the popular vote in 7 out of the last 8 presidential elections. That has to change,” Haley said in the video.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley was the youngest and first minority female governor in the country when she was elected in South Carolina in 2010. She regularly touts the state’s unemployment rate reaching a 15-year low during her tenure with aggressive economic development.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres notes Haley does have some advantages. She was a popular and successful governor from an early primary state who’s one of the few to leave the Trump administration with their reputations enhanced, he said. But a lot of her success as a presidential candidate will depend on how much money she can raise and what kind of reception she gets on the campaign trail, he said.

Her leadership PAC, Stand for America, raised $17.5 million over the last two years. That total was more than she raised in her two gubernatorial campaigns, when she took in $8.4 million in 2014 and $3.8 million in 2010, state records show. Stand for America ended 2022 with $2 million in the bank after spending $15.5 million, including donations to federal and state campaigns of almost $617,000.

It received six-figure donations in 2019 from Home Depot Inc. co-founders Kenneth Langone and Bernard Marcus, hedge fund managers Paul Singer and Cliff Asness and GOP megadonor Miriam Adelson, according to a copy of the group’s 2019 tax return first reported by Politico.

She was reelected with 56% of the vote in 2014 and tapped by Trump in 2016 to serve as ambassador to the U.N. before resigning in 2018.

The Democratic National Committee said that Haley’s announcement started what would be a “messy” primary for Republicans.