During a day of nearly non-stop questions from the public and the press, it was the candidate, Nikki Haley, who asked the most interesting one.
Speaking to a packed house at Poor Boy’s Diner in Londonderry, Haley opened the Q &A period with a query for her campaign wingman for the day, Gov. Chris Sununu.
“Governor, are you ready to endorse me yet?” Haley asked.
“Getting closer every day. Getting closer,” Sununu replied.
The crowd loved it — so much that she repeated the gag at a town hall in Nashua later that day.
Sununu escorted the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador around the state Thursday, pumping up the crowd and singing her praises. He did much the same last week with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.). In fact, his DeSantis day started across the street from Poor Boy’s at the Red Arrow Diner.
It is part of Sununu’s strategy to promote the state’s First in the Nation primary — under attack from President Joe Biden and the DNC — and to boost candidates he sees as potential challengers to frontrunner Donald Trump. And Sununu had plenty of praise for his fellow (former) governor.
“What Nikki has been able to do is to get the whole country, not just New Hampshire, but the whole country excited. The first two debates were awesome,” Sununu said. “You crushed them. You got people excited. Show the grit, show the understanding of the issues, not just the fortitude, and not just being able to give it and take it, but be able to do it with substance behind it. And that’s what we want.”
Several attendees told NHJournal before Haley’s appearance that they were inspired to show up by Haley’s debate performances. Among them were Carol from Hooksett and Brenda from Pembroke — both Democrats. (Both were reluctant to have their last names appear in a story about a Haley event). After watching the first debate, Carol said she was so impressed she called a Republican friend from Bedford and said, “I want to know more about Haley!” Ann from Bedford brought them to the Londonderry event, where all three declared Haley’s performance impressive.
Haley largely stuck with her stump speech, which combines a traditional, muscular U.S. foreign policy with anti-tax-and-spend economics, peppered with some anti-“woke” social issue messaging.
Her economic pitch included “clawing back” about $500 billion in unspent COVID-19 “emergency” funding, tracking down billions of COVID dollars taken through fraud, and “eliminating the federal gas and diesel tax in America. We’re also going to cut taxes on middle America,” Haley said.
She also expressed her dismay at the lack of patriotism in younger Americans, and she linked it to the anti-Israel — and sometimes antisemitic — protests currently underway at college campuses. She called out the elite colleges, warning them that allowing the climate to continue would come at a cost if she is elected.
“Israel does have a right to exist,” Haley said. “And we should also say to any campus that is not keeping their students safe, including their Jewish students, then they should have their tax-exempt status taken away.”
Haley’s most passionate moments came when she spoke about foreign policy, the threats from China, Russia, and Iran, and the need for America to project strength abroad.
“China’s on the march. We know that because they now have 500 nuclear warheads. That’s a hundred more than they had last year,” Haley said. “They have the largest naval fleet in the world. They have 350 ships. They’ll have 400 ships in two years. We won’t even have 350 ships in two decades. They’re doing artificial intelligence, they’re doing space, they’re doing cyber. They’ve developed hypersonic missiles. We’ve barely gotten started.”
Haley bemoaned the “unholy alliance. It’s Iran, Russia, and China. And I’ve never been as worried as I am today that America is acting like it’s September 10th all over again. We’d better remember what September 12th felt like — because we’re there.”
Haley also mocked the attack ads from the Gov. Ron DeSantis-aligned super PAC targeting her as soft on China because, as governor of South Carolina, she encouraged foreign investment in her state — including from China.
“There’s not a governor now or in the past that didn’t try and recruit Chinese companies,” Haley said. “Did we recruit Chinese companies 10 years ago? Yes, I recruited a fiberglass company. What’s [DeSantis’s] excuse? He did it six months ago.”
“If you kick, you get kicked back,” she added.
Haley’s campaign is on a roll, with new polls showing her ahead of DeSantis in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and her numbers still heading north. There have also been reports of big-dollar donors who were backing DeSantis as the alternative to Trump now taking a closer look at Haley.
Haley was recently endorsed by former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, and on Thursday, her campaign announced new endorsements, including state Rep. Mike Moffett, former state Sens. Dave Currier and Nancy Stiles, and former state Rep. Vicki Schwaegler — and more to come, the campaign said.
“Nikki’s rise in New Hampshire is real and a testament to her hard work and nearly 60 events in the state. Granite Staters love her conservative independence and backbone,” said her New Hampshire state director Mak Kehoe. “They know we need a new generational leader in Washington. Our team’s ready to make Nikki America’s next president.”And her campaign has opened a campaign HQ on Elm Street in Manchester.
DeSantis continues to have the most Granite State legislative endorsements, followed closely by Trump. But Haley’s campaign keeps finding ways to show momentum, and it hopes to build on it with another solid debate performance in Miami on Nov. 8.
Of course, her advisors also expect her to be in the crosshairs that night, too.
After the event was over, Haley stopped by the table where the two Democrats, Carol and Brenda. were sitting.
“You blew me away,” Carol said. “You may be just my second Republican vote in my life.”
Asked what her message to other Democrats would be, Haley said, “I want to show them they deserve better than they have right now. That we’ve got work to do, and I can get it done.”
The ability to appeal to voters outside the GOP base is exactly what Sununu says he is looking for as he considers who to endorse in the First in the Nation primary.
“For me, there is one issue for Republicans in 2024: Winning. If you can’t get across the finish line in 2024, get your ass out of the race.”