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Despite 2 losses, Nikki Haley tries to claim victory thus far in the Republican presidential race

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Despite losing both Iowa and New Hampshire to Donald Trump,Nikki Haley is nevertheless trying to frame those losses as a victory and vowing to head off a “coronation” of Trump as the 2024 Republican nominee.

The path through the next states to vote, however, may not be any easier.

“The political class wanted us to believe that this race was over before it even began,” Haley posted Tuesday night on X, after a speech in which she noted she was far from ready to cede any ground. “You proved them wrong, and I am so grateful.”

Haley did perform better in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary than she had in the Iowa caucuses a week earlier, where she finished third, well behind Trump and only slightly down from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has since shuttered his campaign.

But Haley had been banking on a stalwart showing in New Hampshire, a state where her attempt to appeal to independents and more moderate-leaning Republicans appeared to take root. Trump still won by double-digits on Tuesday night, leaving some to wonder whether she would keep going.

Haley has affirmed that she will do just that, speaking virtually to Republican voters in the U.S. Virgin Islands — which hold their caucuses Feb. 8 — before flying from New Hampshire to South Carolina, where she has planned an evening rally.

The Wednesday night event serves two purposes for Haley. It’s a welcome-home gathering for the South Carolina resident and an opener for her campaign in the first-in-the-South GOP voting state, which has historically been influential in determining the party’s nominee. Since 1980, only one winner of South Carolina’s Republican balloting has lost the nomination.

Since his 2016 primary win there helped cement Trump’s dominance in that year’s race, South Carolina has stayed loyal to him. For the 2024 campaign, he boasts endorsements from all but one of the state’s U.S. House Republicans, as well as the governor, lieutenant governor and both U.S. senators.

“Trump is in a commanding position in South Carolina,” one of those senators, Lindsey Graham, said Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol, commending Haley’s effort but forecasting her loss in their home state. “I think for all practical purposes, the primary is over.”

Ahead of New Hampshire’s vote, the super PAC supporting Haley’s candidacy was quick to point out that President Joe Biden, the Democrat she hopes to face in the general election, hadn’t been successful in the first several contests of his 2020 bid, but ultimately won the nomination. That comparison, however, doesn’t take into account the fact that Black voters propelled Biden’s ultimate victory once he reached the South, a factor not expected to weigh heavily in the GOP primary.

Nonetheless, during a call with reporters on Wednesday, Mark Harris, chief strategist for that super PAC, SFA Inc., insisted that Haley “has a path” to the GOP nomination, regardless of Trump’s two early wins.

Casting South Carolina as the campaign’s next “battleground” of the Trump-Haley direct matchup — Nevada’s GOP caucuses are Feb. 8, but Trump has already claimed victory there since Haley isn’t participating — Harris noted that its open primary means that any Democrats who opt not to participate in their party’s Feb. 3 contest can choose to support Haley in the Feb. 24 vote.

“We’re going to do everything we can to encourage those conservative-leaning and Republican-leaning independents to vote in the primary,” Harris said, noting that the super PAC would join the campaign in running “millions of dollars” in TV ads in South Carolina over the next month, also sending out mailers, knocking on doors and doing other outreach.

Asked about conversations with donors after the New Hampshire results, Harris said that the group was confident that it would have the necessary resources.

“Our donors have been in this for the long haul,” Harris said. ”Our strategy was to narrow the field by two by South Carolina.”

He said he was encouraged by the enthusiasm he was seeing.

“People are jazzed up, and I’m very confident we’ll have the resources we need to continue to fight.”

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Rick Gentilo in Washington contributed.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press


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