Hours after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis quietly ended his presidential campaign, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was busy making noise on stage at Exeter High School, marking the start of a one-on-one sprint with former President Donald Trump to the Granite State primary finish line.
“Can you hear that sound?” an energized Haley asked an auditorium filled with cheering supporters. “It’s the sound of a two-person race.”
DeSantis endorsed Trump in taped exit remarks released after visiting Haley’s home state on Saturday, where he had hoped to get a head start on the Palmetto State’s Feb. 24 GOP primary.
Haley, meanwhile, rolled out an unorthodox celebrity endorsement in Exeter Sunday afternoon with Judith Sheindlin, better known as “Judge Judy,” star of the reality television program that bears her name.
Sheindlin said she reached out to Haley soon after she launched her campaign. The reality TV star said she was inspired by Haley’s time serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and her ability to “command her space.”
“I’ve spent some 70-odd years being apolitical. But I, like many of you, wonder about the future of America,” Sheindlin said. “I think that it is not in as good a place as it was when I was growing up. And for that, I am sad.”
(Sheindlin also publicly endorsed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed 2020 Democratic presidential bid.)
“How cool is it to have Judge Judy endorse you?” Haley said.
Despite new polls showing Trump holding his double-digit lead with more than 50 percent ahead of the primary, the Haley campaign exuded optimism and energy Sunday night.
Staffers tossed Haley t-shirts into the auditorium crowd as AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blared from the speakers. Volunteers who had looked visibly discouraged by repeated disruptions from climate protesters the night before in Nashua led a series of pro-Haley cheers as supporters waited for the event to begin.
John Cryer, a finance and administrative officer from Scarborough, Maine, said Haley’s Sunday rally was his first time attending a Granite State primary event.
“I’m with her. I think she’s the right person,” he said. “There’s a lot of reasons not to vote for the other guys. I think she’s got a steady hand. She’s who we need running the show right now.”
A registered independent, Cryer added he thinks DeSantis’ exit could “make the difference for Haley.”
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, Haley’s Granite State sherpa, cited Secretary of State David Scanlan’s prediction of a record turnout of 322,000 for Tuesday’s GOP primary.
“For years, we’ve been waiting for something to happen with Republicans galvanizing together to give the entire country hope that this is really happening,” Sununu said.
GOP primary poll numbers reflect a commanding lead for Trump, however. The lone poll in RealClearPolitics’ average that since July has stubbornly pegged Trump’s New Hampshire support under 40 percent flipped Sunday morning as the UNH Survey Center placed Trump at 50 percent among state GOP primary voters. DeSantis’ departure is unlikely to help Haley close the gap, political experts say.
RCP’s average of recent New Hampshire polling conducted between Tuesday and Saturday shows Trump (52.5 points) maintaining a 15-point lead over Haley (37.5 points), with DeSantis at just seven percent even before he announced he was ending his campaign.
On Sunday, Haley mostly followed her custom of sticking with her stump speech script, though she briefly mentioned Vice President Kamala Harris at one point. Haley predicted Biden’s reelection would result in Harris finishing out his term. The thought “brings a chill up my spine,” Haley said.
In her remarks, Sheindlin alluded to both the current and former residents of the White House running for office today.
“Suffice it to say, when you teach a child not to put their hand over a flame, you do that because you know they’re going to get burned,” Sheindlin said. “We’ve gotten burned. You know what, fool me once. Shame on you. Fool me twice, fully twice. Shame on me.”
“We’ve already seen what these two presidencies look like. It’s time for Nikki Haley. This is her moment.”