His candidate, Nikki Haley, may have come in third in the Iowa caucuses, but Gov. Chris Sununu says the presidential primary is still “a two-person race” between her and Donald Trump.
And why not second-place Iowa finisher, Gov. Ron DeSantis?
“Because DeSantis isn’t here [in New Hampshire],” Sununu told NHJournal during a lunchtime stop with Haley at Chez Vachon in Manchester. “He’s out of money, he has no momentum, and he’s in single digits.”
DeSantis did arrive in New Hampshire later in the day, but after a campaign stop in Haley’s home state of South Carolina. Asked about DeSantis’ Palmetto State pitstop, Sununu quipped, “I’m sure he’s enjoying the beaches.”
Sununu and other Haley supporters say DeSantis ignored New Hampshire and camped out in Iowa, and his trip to South Carolina is yet another sign he’s snubbing the Granite State.
“He’s been invisible in New Hampshire and South Carolina, we have not,” Haley told WMUR. We have worked hard in New Hampshire. New Hampshire knows that we’ve gone around that state multiple times. We’re going to continue to go back.”
Asked by NHJournal about DeSantis’ trip to her home state, Haley shrugged it off. “I haven’t really thought about it.”
Later in the day, during an MSNBC interview, Sununu said of DeSantis, “He’s done.”
Team DeSantis pushed back on Sununu’s attack, pointing out that it’s Haley, and not DeSantis, who’s refusing to participate in the traditional pre-First in the Nation primary debate. As a result, ABC and WMUR announced Tuesday the debate was being canceled.
“Sununu should tune into Gov. DeSantis’ CNN townhall tonight in New Hampshire, and ask Nikki Haley why she’s now afraid to debate in the Granite State,” said Jessica Szymanski, spokesperson for the pro-DeSantis Never Back Down super PAC.
And DeSantis supporters in the Granite State point to his schedule, with events in Jackson, Hampton and Derry on Wednesday. And more to come, campaign sources told NHJournal.
But privately, local DeSantis backers have been complaining for weeks about how little time their candidate has spent in New Hampshire and the lack of advertising dollars invested in the First in the Nation primary. DeSantis has been largely off the airwaves and out of the mailboxes for weeks.
In a statement Tuesday, DeSantis campaign communications director Andrew Romeo argued the key isn’t cash; it’s a real, conservative message.
“Nikki Haley spent more money per vote than any other candidate in Iowa to get a disastrous third — proving no amount of money can erase her record of caving to the left on every issue important to conservatives,” Romeo said. “While it may take a few more weeks to fully get there, this will be a two-person race soon enough.”
Haley supporters who gathered at Chez Vachon were excited about Haley’s candidacy and said they appreciated the amount of on-the-ground campaigning she’s done in the Granite State.
“I love that we have a strong, independent woman in this race,” Kathleen Edwards of Bedford, N.H., told Haley when she arrived at the diner.
Edwards, who described herself as a regular GOP primary voter, said that none of the other GOP candidates were on her menu. “Not even close.”
“I think that we need a change, a big change — and I think a strong, independent woman is the next one on the list.”
Not that it matters, many campaign professionals say. Trump’s record-setting win in the Iowa caucuses, combined with the inability of either DeSantis or Haley to have a breakout performance, has convinced some political observers to declare the primary all but over.
Asked about Haley’s claim that it’s a two-person race, New England College professor of politics Dr. Nathan Shrader told an NHJournal pundit panel Tuesday morning, “I think it’s a one-person race.”
“Donald Trump is going to be the nominee. I’m normally not out making predictions, but I feel pretty comfortable with this one,” Shrader said. “I think even if Nikki Haley pulls off a win in New Hampshire, I don’t think it changes the trajectory of Trump easily winning the nomination.”
But Kevin of Manchester, another Republican primary voter who showed up at Chez Vachon, said his message to his fellow Republicans was to seize the opportunity they have as the First in the Nation voters.
“It’s time for a change. We have a couple of viable alternatives. Let’s take advantage of it while we can.”