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A week out from Primary Day, Haley and DeSantis hustle to unseat Trump as GOP nominee

Ross Connolly knocks on doors to support Nikki Haley
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
Ross Connolly, northeast regional state director for AFP Action, knocks on doors in Manchester to enlist support for Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, Jan. 16, 2024.

With the Iowa caucuses in the books, the next week will be a sprint to the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 23.

After a decisive win in Iowa, Trump is hoping to move closer to his party’s nomination with another dominant performance in the Granite State. Meanwhile, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are hoping to check his momentum.

Here's what else to watch out for between now and next Tuesday.


Trump is going to stay very busy in New Hampshire

Trump’s campaign has planned a string of rallies across New Hampshire between now and Primary Day: in Atkinson on Tuesday, in Portsmouth on Wednesday, in Concord on Friday, at the SNHU Arena in Manchester on Saturday, and at the Rochester Opera House on Sunday.

This burst will be by far the most sustained bit of campaigning from Trump in New Hampshire since 2016, during his first run for the White House. And if you talk to Trump’s people here, you hear several things. One big point they’re making is that this Trump campaign is more sophisticated than when he won his first primary here eight years ago.

“In 2015, we had raw energy,” said Steve Stepanek, who chaired that first campaign for Trump in New Hampshire and also leads Trump’s local effort this year. “We’ve taken that raw energy and funneled it into an organization — you know, town captains, county committees. We are so much more organized than we were then.”

Trump’s team is hoping that organization, combined with the candidate’s barrage of rallies in the coming days, is enough to wrap up the Republican race altogether after New Hampshire.

 


Nikki Haley is relying on outside help in New Hampshire

Haley has been banking on a strong showing in New Hampshire, and it's still possible she gets one. She’s campaigning across the state this week, including in the North Country Tuesday evening.

But she’s really banking on a two-part strategy to put her over the top in New Hampshire. First, she’s essentially lashing herself to Gov. Chris Sununu on the campaign trail. Sununu endorsed Haley last month and has appeared — both on his own and at her side — at many campaign events since then, promising to help push her past Trump in New Hampshire.

Haley’s other approach this week is to rely on canvassers from her own campaign and — perhaps even more importantly — from allied outside groups, including the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Action, which endorsed Haley.

The conservative group has been canvassing statewide for months, relying on seven paid staff and approximately 70 part-time workers in the hopes of pumping up turnout among the voters Haley needs: anti-Trump Republicans and moderate independent voters.

On Tuesday, Ross Connolly, a regional director for AFP Action, braved a steady snowfall to knock on doors in a Manchester neighborhood.

“This will always be important,” Connolly said. “Everything we know about politics is that the face-to-face conversations are the most important things.”

Haley and her supporters are bent on framing New Hampshire — and the rest of the nominating fight — as a two-candidate race. She’ll need to do very well on Primary Day to make that come true.


Ron DeSantis is reintroducing himself to New Hampshire voters

DeSantis focused most of his campaign energy on Iowa in recent months and hasn't spent as much time in New Hampshire. So this week for him is all about playing catch-up.

While his second-place Iowa finish could lift him here, it isn’t obvious that his local backing is necessarily destined to grow. He’s got committed supporters but has been losing ground in polls here for weeks.

DeSantis, unlike Haley, would certainly welcome candidate debates, whether Trump is on stage or not. But Haley has said she won’t debate unless Trump is there — something that’s almost certain not to happen.


Lots of voters are still making up their minds — but Trump seems inevitable to many

Almost to a person, those at this weekend's New Hampshire Republican Party's annual convention — which brought together several hundred party activists of all stripes — said they expect Trump to win here next week.

Rockingham County Commissioner Steve Goddu said Trump isn’t his first choice — he endorsed Vivek Ramaswamy, who has since dropped out of the race — but sees next week’s outcome as almost preordained.

“I think it’s looking great for Trump,” Goddu said. “Nikki Haley is doing well, and she has a high likability rating, and I like her. But I think, for sure, we will all be supporting President Trump in the reelection.”

Several hundred-thousand New Hampshire voters will get their say on that next week, of course. One big challenge for non-Trump candidates will be to pierce that sense of inevitability so many Republicans see at this point in the Trump campaign.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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