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The primaries have just begun. But Trump and Biden are already shifting to a November mindset

NEW YORK (AP) — Barely 400,000 votes have been cast in two rural Republican primaries over the span of eight days. But both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are behaving like their parties’ nominees already.

Trump’s double-digit victory Tuesday in independent-minded New Hampshire, where he was considered more vulnerable than perhaps anywhere else, was a rhetorical tipping point for both Democrats and Republicans.

“It is now clear that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. And my message to the country is the stakes could not be higher,” President Joe Biden said hours after Trump’s victory Tuesday night.

Trump’s team largely agreed, even as he raged about former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s unwillingness to leave the race altogether.

“I say the general election begins tonight,” said Trump-adversary-turned-advocate Vivek Ramaswamy, who was standing at the former president’s side during his New Hampshire victory speech. “And this man will win it in a landslide.”

What comes next for a potential matchup many voters don’t want

The bluster is just a sliver of what’s to come over the next 10 months. Both parties are building out sprawling political operations backed by billions of dollars in advertising to shape the all-but-certain general election rematch between the current president and his predecessor.

It is a matchup that many voters and some elected officials did not want. Both Biden and Trump have loud detractors within their parties and glaring political liabilities. Yet no other Republican presidential candidate in history has won the first two contests on the primary calendar, as Trump polished off Tuesday night, and failed to clinch his party’s nomination. And Biden, who won New Hampshire’s Democratic primary without even appearing on the ballot, is facing only token opposition in his bid for the Democratic nomination.

Hours before Biden’s New Hampshire win was official, the president shifted two key aides from the White House to his Delaware-based campaign. On Wednesday, Biden is serving as the keynote speaker at a United Auto Workers political convention as he works to win over blue-collar workers in critical Midwestern swing states.

Trump heads to Phoenix on Friday to address Republicans in a swing state that Biden won by 10,000 votes in 2020.

Nikki Haley vows to continue

As much as Trump’s team would like to shift its full focus toward Biden, one Republican rival is still standing.

“Could somebody please explain to Nikki that she lost — and lost really badly,” Trump wrote on his social media network. “She also lost Iowa, BIG, last week. They were, as certain non-fake media say, ‘CRUSHING DEFEATS.’”

Haley’s team vowed on Wednesday to continue fighting Trump for the GOP nomination, even with the prospect looming of an embarrassing home-state primary defeat in South Carolina on Feb. 24.

“New Hampshire is first in the nation. It is not last in the nation,” Haley declared before leaving Tuesday night. “This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go.”

Indeed, primary contests are scheduled in every U.S. state and territory over the next five months ahead of each party’s summertime national conventions. The earliest either Trump or Biden could clinch enough delegates to become his party’s presumptive nominee is March.

Eyes on South Carolina and the race ahead

Haley’s campaign launched a new $4 million advertising campaign in South Carolina on Wednesday, describing the prospect of a Biden-Trump general election as “a rematch no one wants.”

“Biden – too old. Trump – too much chaos,” the narrator says. “There’s a better choice for a better America.”

Haley was to campaign in Charleston on Wednesday evening in what her campaign said was the beginning of her “first-in-the-South swing.” She began Wednesday by addressing Republicans via Zoom in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where caucuses on Feb. 8 will decide nine Republican delegates.

“Nikki Haley is the happy warrior,” Mark Harris, who leads the major pro-Haley super PAC, said Wednesday.

Harris said his organization would join the campaign in running millions of dollars in TV ads in South Carolina over the next month in addition to sending out mailers, knocking on doors and doing other outreach. As Trump seeks to expand his coalition among elected officials, Harris said Haley’s team is more focused on the voters.

“It will not be politicians, it won’t be party insiders,” Harris said. “It won’t be campaign officials. It will be voters. Voters get to make this decision. That’s the beauty of American democracy.”

Early next week, Haley is scheduled to do a fundraising tour that includes stops in New York, Florida, California, Texas and South Carolina. She’s expected to continue to draw continued donor support, despite Trump’s grip on the nomination, because significant forces within the GOP do not want him to represent their party on the general election ballot.

Trump’s critics openly fear that he would struggle to win in November and would drag down Republican candidates in other elections. Republicans have struggled in every national election since Trump first captured the White House in 2016.

Indeed, there were new warning signs about Trump’s broader political standing tucked within New Hampshire’s results that raised questions about his strength in the general election.

Haley beat Trump on Tuesday among Republican primary voters who identified as either moderates or independents, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of the electorate. She also beat Trump among voters with college degrees.

About half of the state’s Republican primary voters also said they are very or somewhat concerned that Trump is too extreme to win the general election. And about one-third believe that Trump broke the law — in his alleged attempt to interfere in the vote count in the 2020 presidential election, his role in what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, or with the classified documents found at his Florida home after he left the White House.

Trump flew back to his Florida estate late Tuesday as he prepared for another series of court appearances.

Still, for all of Trump’s baggage, there were new signs following his New Hampshire victory that his party was accepting the reality of his dominance A new series of elected officials endorsed him, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who has publicly disagreed with Trump before and told reporters in May, “We need to come up with an alternative.”

“I have seen enough,” Cornyn wrote on social media Tuesday. “To beat Biden, Republicans need to unite around a single candidate, and it’s clear that President Trump is Republican voters’ choice.”

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Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

Steve Peoples, The Associated Press




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