‘David taking on Goliath’: What to expect as Haley, Trump battle in South Carolina

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nikki Haley has gone to extraordinary lengths in maintaining she’s not giving up her White House bid if she loses her home state of South Carolina.

But her performance in Saturday’s primary will go a long way in determining how long she’ll wage her long-shot fight against former President Donald Trump.

During campaign stops all week and an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Haley has made clear she’s sticking in the race beyond South Carolina and there’s nothing he can offer her to change that.

What she didn’t do was say whether she could beat Trump in South Carolina or any other state that holds votes in the next few weeks, when the political landscape could turn even more forbidding.

“I’ve always been David taking on Goliath,” she told a cheering audience in Greenville this week.

As for Trump, he is relishing his role as the odds-on favorite.

“Nikki Haley is losing to me. It looks like she’s going to lose by 25 or 30 points,” Trump said at a campaign stop. “People don’t like her too much, and she’s hurting the party.”

Here’s what to watch:

Is Haley’s anti-chaos message working?

If there’s a key thrust to the case Haley is making to voters, it is that she’ll offer Republicans a refreshing alternative to the controversies surrounding Trump — and a younger counterweight to both Trump and President Joe Biden.

Her campaign sells “Make America Normal Again” and “Barred Permanently” T-shirts mocking Trump. She tells audiences that Trump will spend more time in the courtroom than on the campaign trail.

While that message may appeal to moderates and swing voters, it doesn’t play as well with hardcore conservatives who dominate the GOP electorate in South Carolina and other key states who view the trials as politicized prosecutions.

How big will Trump’s margin be?

Time and again, Haley has refused to predict her level of support in South Carolina. But if she isn’t blown out by Trump, she can try to portray her campaign as beating expectations.

Longtime observers of South Carolina politics suggest Haley could be in a stronger position than it appears.

“This primary is probably going to be a wipeout for Haley. But that’s not what she is doing here. She’s trying to provide an off-ramp for Republicans,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, one of the most influential politicians in the state.

He told “Politically Georgia” the primary is a “win-win” for Haley, setting the stage for her to be a backup for Trump if he’s forced to leave the race or paving the way for a 2028 candidacy.

“I think Haley is in the catbird seat,” Clyburn said.

Haley, for her part, says she has no ulterior motive.

“I don’t care about a political future,” she told supporters in Myrtle Beach. “If I did, I’d be out by now.”

How will crossover votes affect the outcome?

Like Georgia, South Caroline uses an open primary system that allows voters to cast ballots in one of either party’s primary contests.

And Haley is now appealing to a broader coalition than the conservative voters who powered her two statewide election wins as she reaches out to moderates, disaffected Republicans and even Democrats who didn’t vote in their party’s primary earlier this month.

A Suffolk University/USA Today poll this week showed Haley with roughly a third of the vote. But nearly 60% of respondents who dubbed themselves liberal or moderate backed Haley. She and her allies say the bigger tent approach is the only way to defeat Biden.

“MAGA can’t do this alone,” Scarlett Wilson, a local prosecutor, told voters at a weekend Haley rally. “We’ve got to have all sorts of people, all kinds. And I think Gov. Haley can do that.”

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