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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Haley risks humiliation at home despite a flood of spending

Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event at Thunder Tower Harley Davidson on Feb. 12, 2024, in Elgin, South Carolina. South Carolina holds its Republican primary on February 24.   (Win McNamee/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Nancy Cook and Bill Allison Bloomberg News

Nikki Haley has spent far more money and time on the upcoming South Carolina Republican primary than her rival Donald Trump, yet still trails the former president by a wide margin there, despite it being her home state.

The Haley campaign and her two allied super political action committees have booked $8.4 million in advertising there since the New Hampshire primary, according to data from AdImpact. South Carolinians have seen their former governor traverse the state on a two-week bus tour. Pro-Haley signs dot front yards and residents are inundated by multiple ads for her campaign on TV.

That investment has failed to dent Trump in the polls, though, where he leads by over 30 percentage points ahead of the Feb. 24 primary, raising questions about whether donors will keep the spigot open for Haley, his last major challenger, into the next round of contests.

By contrast, Trump’s team has booked no advertising in the state, with Make America Great Again Inc., the super PAC supporting him, spending just a modest $67,000 on text messages, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission.

The former president held rallies in recent days in Conway and North Charleston, but has not been a regular presence. That approach does not appear to have loosened his grip on the state’s Republicans.

“It’s not that people dislike her. It’s just that they like somebody else better,” Robert Oldendick, a professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina, said. “Haley can’t break through the ironclad hold Trump has on the people who will turn out in the primary election.”

That’s been the case in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada too, where the GOP base embraced Trump’s brand of politics and delivered him wins.

“If you look at South Carolina, it is a microcosm of the new Republican base, with a lot of white, blue-collar voters here. Trump does well with them,” said James Hodges, a former Democratic South Carolina governor and president of McGuireWoods Consulting LLC. “The type of voters Haley did well with in New Hampshire — white, college-educated voters — there’s not a lot of them here, so the math is difficult.”

Advertising Blitz

Haley’s campaign has ramped up their advertising following last month’s New Hampshire primary, with multiple ads, many critical of Trump.

One calls President Joe Biden too old and Trump too chaotic, as it touts Haley’s record and plans to cut taxes, close the border and challenge China. Another accuses Trump of having temper tantrums and running to settle scores, in contrast to Haley who it casts as taking on the establishment as governor and dictators as United Nations envoy.

Her most recent ad hits Trump over his plan for broad 10% tariffs on imported goods and a foreign policy that would, it says, lead to a Russian victory in Ukraine. Another spot from allied super PAC SFA Fund hits on the possibility of Vice President Kamala Harris assuming the presidency, playing on fears about the age of Biden, 81.

Americans for Prosperity Action, the super PAC largely funded by billionaire Charles Koch which has thrown its support behind Haley, has been running digital ads touting her as having the best chance to beat Biden. It’s also spent about $415,000 on canvassing, mailings, flyers and door hangers to support Haley in South Carolina.

“Haley is spending a lot of money on the air and a lot of time on the ground here and that is a imperative for her to reintroduce her to South Carolinians. She has been gone for seven years now, and we’ve had almost 1 million new people move into the state since she was governor,” said Dave Wilson, a South Carolina political strategist and former president of the Palmetto Family Council.

Trump Strategy

In lieu of airtime, Trump’s strategy instead has focused on earning endorsements from the majority of South Carolina officials, including the governor and lieutenant governor, both of whom have campaigned alongside him and highlighted how the former president has dominated Haley in her own state.

“President Trump continues to dominate Nikki Birdbrain Haley by wide margins in every poll while conserving resources to beat Crooked Joe Biden in the general,” said campaign spokesman Steven Cheung, using Trump’s derogatory nickname for his rival. “Meanwhile, Birdbrain is setting fire to all of her Democrat money for a vanity project to position herself as the candidate of the Never Trumpers.”

Trump’s camp has also assailed Haley for appealing to moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents, saying that her campaign is being fueled by support from the left. Haley has said Republicans will need to broaden their support to defeat Biden in November.

Trump aides have said they want to have the nomination locked up by late March after Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states hold primaries.

Local operatives expect Trump to win South Carolina, but are waiting to see by how much and how viable Haley will be going forward.

“If she is within single digits of Trump, she will show she has staying power that will last beyond Super Tuesday,” Wilson said.