MILFORD, N.H. — Tally McBride came to see Nikki Haley at Grill 603 already set on supporting her in Tuesday’s primary. The local independent voter described herself as a “never, ever, ever Trumper” who sees the rest of the GOP field as too conservative and President Joe Biden as too liberal.
With three kids in tow, McBride sat in a back booth and watched as Haley greeted voters over a skillet of s’mores. McBride, 33, said she’s “definitely more pro-life” than Haley, but is also worried about “a slippery slope of women not getting the right care.” Haley, who has urged Republicans to talk about abortion with more compassion but also supports restrictions on the procedure, has struck the right tone for McBride.
“I just feel like it should be anybody but Trump, and Nikki Haley seems like the best way to get that done,” McBride said.If the November election comes down to former President Donald Trump or Biden, McBride says she’ll likely sit it out.
Haley’s uphill battle for the Republican presidential nomination has arrived at the doorstep of voters in New Hampshire, where the last candidate standing against Trump is vying to create a coalition with independents like McBride and Republicans open to a Trump alternative..
Her closing message here hangs on her electability: that she’s the last candidate who can take down Trump and the only Republican who can defeat Biden. In a country where voters’ perceptions of who is electable have long hindered women candidates, Haley’s unlikely trajectory from lone woman in the race, polling in the single digits, to final holdout against Trump has already upended expectations for women presidential candidates in the modern GOP.
Haley’s final stand in New Hampshire, in an election that became a two-person race with Sunday’s exit of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, features an emotional three-minute ad that will air across the state Monday focused on Haley’s role in returning Otto Warmbier to the United States after being imprisoned in North Korea. The ad leans on Haley’s foreign policy experience, but also on motherhood. “She did it as a mom, a friend, and a fighter who made my fight her own,” Warmbier’s mother, Cindy, tells viewers.
Haley continued to barnstorm in New Hampshire even as polling showed that the majority of the Republican Party remains supportive of Trump and are not eagerly chasing an alternative. A Suffolk University/Boston Globe/NBC-10 poll taken before DeSantis dropped out showed Trump with support of 55 percent of likely voters compared with Haley’s 36 percent. A closer look at likely women voters and independent voters shows Haley splitting both groups evenly with Trump.
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s primary, Haley’s supporters in New Hampshire offer a glimpse into the impact of her strategy as the Republican woman who has come closest to the presidency in the modern GOP and insight into a segment of women voters who are looking for alternatives to the parties’ standard-bearers.
Outside Haley’s Manchester rally on Friday, Lynn Jackson, an independent, said she sees Trump as “dangerous” to the country’s democracy and is shopping for alternatives. Jackson, 62, said she attended a DeSantis event the previous day but was “really bothered” by how he touted that he didn’t follow federal guidance on COVID-19 restrictions in Florida. Jackson said she hadn’t decided on a candidate but that Haley “seemed less extremist than I expected her to be.”
Haley turned the Manchester crowd’s attention to a six-week-old poll from the Wall Street Journal showing her trouncing Biden in a hypothetical matchup by 17 points. Other polls have similarly shown her ahead of Biden, but by smaller margins, and some recent polls have also shown Trump beating Biden by similar margins. Haley said it was time for Republicans to face “hard truths” about their prospects for victory in the November elections with Trump, and said polling data shows she’s a more electable bet.
“If I pull off a win of double digits, do you know what that means? That’s bigger than the presidency. That’s the House, that’s the Senate, that’s governorships and school boards. That’s a really big change in our government,” Haley told the crowd.
Women candidates have long faced questions about whether they’re electable, with even supporters sometimes questioning whether other voters will find putting a woman in office palatable. Eighty percent of Americans think that one obstacle to boosting representation is that many voters aren’t ready to elect a woman to higher office, according to 2023 polling from Pew Research Center.
In a bid for independents, Haley has tried to paint both Trump and Biden as undesirable options to most Americans, equating a former president mired in legal woes and threatening dictatorship “for a day” with one who supports liberal policies and is advanced in age. “More of the same is Joe Biden or Donald Trump,” she told the crowd at Grill 603 in Milford. Haley has questioned the competency of both candidates, deriding them on Sunday as “two 80-year-old names from the past.”
Caroline Trombi, 18, watched Haley while working her shift at Grill 603. Trombi said she was thinking about supporting Haley, in part because of the prospect of a woman president and in part because she’s not enthused by Biden. Trombi said the issue giving her pause about Haley was abortion: Trombi supports abortion rights, and she wasn’t clear on whether or not Haley would support national restrictions.
Outside Trump’s Saturday rally in Manchester, Donna T., 71, who spoke on the condition that her full name not be published to protect her privacy, said she was really supportive of the former president but came to downtown Manchester for his Saturday rally to hear him speak as she wrestled with the decision of whether to cast a ballot for him or Haley on Tuesday.
“I’m still thinking, because I heard people say that if it’s Trump and Biden, Biden would win. But if it’s Haley and Biden, Haley would win. They are like a triangle,” Donna said. The Manchester voter, who immigrated from China more than three decades ago, said concerns over socialism made her skeptical of Democrats.
Donna wasn’t able to secure a seat at Trump’s Manchester rally, which was at capacity long before the former president appeared on stage before an estimated 5,000 people. Haley’s rally Friday night inside the Hilton DoubleTree in downtown Manchester drew a few hundred people, including a group of students who had traveled from Rhode Island for a class project.
In her New Hampshire stops, Haley carried on with her playbook on navigating gender — pointing out her identity as a woman, mom and wife in terms of traditional femininity — and steering away from any talk of representation or the unprecedented nature of her campaign. She rarely addresses the intersection she finds herself at as an Indian American woman in public, even as she faces racist and sexist attacks. In a social media post, Trump repeatedly referred to Haley by a butchered version of her first name, Nimarata, and falsely claimed she was ineligible for the presidency because her parents were immigrants.
Melinda Tourangeau, a volunteer with the Haley campaign shuffling around the Milford restaurant handing out yard signs, said she was asked about the significance of Haley’s gender in a cable news interview early in the race, and she had wrestled with how to answer. During a call with other “Women for Nikki” volunteers, Tourangeau posed the question to the candidate herself.
“I said, ‘What do you want me to say?’” Tourangeau recalled. “And she said, ‘Why point out what’s obvious?’” Tourangeau was satisfied with the answer, saying that Haley’s campaign was never about making history for women candidates.
“But let me share something with you,” Tourangeau added, going on to point out that 59 countries in the United Nations had had a woman leader. “We’ll be 60!”
McBride, too, shared some excitement about the prospect of Haley as president.
“I think that a mom, especially, brings a unique perspective to leading the country,” she said. “And I’d love it if our girls got to see that. And if our boys got to see that, too.”