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In first NH campaign stop, Haley stresses biography and need for fresh GOP leaders

Nikki Haley campaigns at Exeter Town Hall
Josh Rogers
Nikki Haley campaigns at Exeter Town Hall, Feb. 16, 2023.

In the first major open-door event of the 2024 Republican presidential race in New Hampshire, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley brought her campaign to Exeter Town Hall Thursday, one day after launching it in her home state of South Carolina.

Haley, who also served eight years as governor of South Carolina, expressed orthodox conservative positions on issues ranging from education and national defense to government spending, the 2nd Amendment and parental rights. Throughout her appearance, Haley, 51, also made a pitch for Republicans to seek out younger leaders as she courted voters who packed the town hall building Thursday.

“You do mental competency tests for anyone over the age of 75,” Haley said at one point, in an apparent swipe at both President Joe Biden, who is 80, and former President Donald Trump, who is 76.

“We start focusing on new generational leadership, and the best way to do that is to put a badass woman in the White House,” she continued, to loud applause.

Haley is the first major candidate to enter the race for the GOP presidential nomination besides Trump, who appointed her his U.N. ambassador. Haley told the crowd Trump “was true to his word” when she served in that post.

“I went in there and took the ‘kick me’ sign off our back,” she said of her time as ambassador.

Haley said the U.S. needs to take a tougher line with China, and praised the commitment of Ukraine in fighting Russia.

“It’s a war on freedom, and it’s a war we have to win.” Haley said.

Haley also emphasized many social issues that animate Republicans, taking aim at early sex education, efforts to cut police funding, and school curricula that address structural racism. Haley called such teaching “abusive.”

“We have this national self-loathing that’s taken over this country,” said Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants. America is not racist.”

Haley was joined in Exeter by former U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc. Bolduc, a retired general, ran last year as a hard-right populist, in an at-times conspiracy-fueled campaign, before losing to incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. He praised Haley as the sort of public servant the country needs.

“She is a strong intelligent woman, who is in the right place at the right time to lead this great nation, to save this great nation.” Bolduc said.

After the event, Bud Hughes, an independent voter from Stratham who said he’s all but certain to vote in the Republican presidential primary next year, said Haley made a good first impression.

“I like a lot of what she had to say, but so many politicians will tickle your ears,” Hughes said. “But I’ll be looking to see what she does down the line.”

Haley will have more chances to introduce herself to likely primary voters on Friday. She’s slated to attend a reception hosted by the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women. That evening, Haley will hold another town hall-style event at St. Anselm College in Manchester.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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