CONCORD, New Hampshire— Leah Aldridge and Suzi Zeising have been close friends for more than 30 years — since they attended Emory Law School together. But in 2020, they were like a lot of friends, divided over who they’d support in the presidential election.
Zeising voted for President Joe Biden, while Aldridge, a high-profile Republican activist in Georgia, voted for former President Donald Trump.
But in sub-zero temperatures in snowy New Hampshire this week, Zeising and Aldridge headed out together to knock on voters’ doors to campaign for former South Carolina Nikki Haley for president. The two Atlanta moms are the exact suburban women campaigns know they need to succeed in close races, including in Georgia in 2024. And they are a big part of why Haley has become the last woman standing against Trump this week, even with election-eve polls showing Trump poised to win New Hampshire by a large margin.
“I never loved Biden, but in my mind he was so much better than Trump,” Zeising said of her vote in 2020. “I have no respect for Donald Trump’s lifestyle choices, the way he treats women, the way he treats people in general. I just thought he would be ruinous.”
Aldridge, on the other hand, was an active Republican and former candidate for state Senate. She supported Trump.
The two friends didn’t have a falling out over the difference, but they strongly disagreed with each other. “I really felt like she was casting her vote for someone that was going to hurt the country,” said Zeising. “And she felt the same about me.”
Fast forward three years and the country could be on the verge of a replay of 2020, with Trump and Biden both leading in the race to become their party’s nominee for president in November.
But unlike 2020, Aldridge and Zeising are both now pulling for Haley, hoping that the South Carolina Republican can bring the country together the same way she’s brought them together.
Sitting by the fire in the lobby of a Concorde hotel this week, they described how they ended up on the same page opposing Trump and stumping for Haley.
“It’s time to move past the rancor, and the division and the personal insults,” Aldridge said. “I’ve got an 18-year-old boy casting his first vote.” She couldn’t present Trump as someone for her son to consider as a leader, she said. “I’m a conservative, Christian, pro-life woman and I do not see that he represents my values.”
But Haley is a different story. “She represents my values,” she said. “It’s really less about Trump and more that there’s simply no comparison between the two,” she said. “I’ve got to look out for the future and I need a future that isn’t marked by indictments and scandal.”
Zeising added, “And (Trump and Biden are) both just too old.”
Aldridge met the former governor through her work in GOP politics and loaned Zeising a copy of Haley’s book to read. “I thought that I probably wouldn’t care for her and her policies,” Zeising said. “But I was just amazed at how much I liked her, her voice, her policies, her thoughts, her empathy.”
She said she liked Haley’s style when, after a falling out with Trump in 2016, she tweeted, “Bless your heart.’
“I just thought, she’s not going to be walked all over. When she did announce her candidacy I’ve never been so excited about a candidate before.”
Knowing they both wanted to see Haley beat Trump this year, they packed their bags to campaign in New Hampshire, a first for both of them.
They spent the weekend before the election going door-to-door in Petersborough, Concord and Manchester, and even made an appearance on Fox & Friends from a diner.
As they met New Hampshire voters, they found Haley supporters, Trump supporters, and plenty of Democratic women who oppose Trump. “But two or three of the Democratic women said, ‘I will die if Trump wins, but if Haley wins, I’m ok with that.’”
Looking ahead, Aldridge and Zeising both believe Haley can win the GOP nomination. But if she doesn’t and Trump becomes the nominee, Zeising said she won’t support him in November under any circumstance.
But Aldridge is not sure what she’d do, other than to say she won’t vote for a Democrat. “It’s personally painful to think about,” she said. “I’m working very hard to make sure that’s not a choice I have to make.”
As Election Day drew closer in New Hampshire and polls showed Haley picking up significant independent and moderate support, Trump accused her of making “an unholy alliance with RINOs, Never Trumpers, the globalists, the radical left and the communists.”
His crowd in Rochester loved it, but Aldridge rejected the notion that Haley’s crossover appeal somehow makes her liberal.
“The idea that someone like Suzi voting for Nikki Haley could hurt Nikki Haley is so bizarre to me,” she said. “She has the potential, unlike anyone else, to really bring our country together and to really heal so many of these wounds.”
She predicted that Haley would defeat Biden by double digits, something no poll has shown Trump doing. In fact, Trump’s 2020 loss in Georgia came largely due to the cratering of support from independents. While Trump and Biden won their partisan voters by huge margins, Biden won independent voters by seven points and self-identified moderates 65% to 33%. In a contest that came down to fewer than 12,000 votes, those middle-of-the-road voters were the crucial difference.
Aldridge warns fellow Republicans that with Trump as the nominee in 2024, it will happen again.
A voter asked her recently why she believes that Haley, a conservative, could not only win, but also fix the deep political divides in the country. Pointing to herself and then to Zeising, Aldridge said, “Because it’s already happening.”