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Nikki Haley launches 2024 presidential run, calling for "new generation" of GOP leadership

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Nikki Haley officially launches 2024 presidential campaign in South Carolina 07:07

Washington — Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, formally launched her 2024 campaign for the White House on Wednesday, pitching herself to voters as part of a "new generation" of Republican leaders who can win at the ballot box.

"I know America is better than all the division and distractions that we have today," Haley told several hundred supporters in Charleston, South Carolina. "And I'm confident that the American people agree. We're ready — ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past, and we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future." 

Haley, 51, declined to criticize former President Donald Trump directly, and instead focused her criticism on President Biden and establishment politicians of both parties in Washington. In one not-so-subtle dig at both Trump and Mr. Biden, Haley called for "mandatory mental competency tests" for politicians over the age of 75. Trump is 76, and Mr. Biden is 80.

"America is not past our prime — it's just that our politicians are past theirs," she told the crowd. 

Haley lamented that Republicans lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight elections, which includes Trump's 2016 win, saying Republicans had "failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans."

"If you're tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation," she said.

Former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley arrives for an event launching her candidacy for the presidency on Feb. 15, 2023, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley arrives for an event launching her candidacy for the presidency on Feb. 15, 2023, in Charleston, South Carolina. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Haley is so far the only GOP challenger to her former boss, who announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination last November. She joined the Trump administration as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in January 2017 and departed the post at the end of 2018.

Haley broke barriers when she was elected governor of South Carolina in 2010, becoming the first woman to lead the state and its first Indian-American governor. She would be the first woman to top the party's ticket if selected as the GOP presidential nominee.

The former ambassador faces the challenge of differentiating herself from Trump while still appealing to his loyal base of supporters, who make up a large portion of the Republican primary electorate.

Before the speech, Haley received an endorsement from South Carolina's Rep. Ralph Norman, a Trump ally who initially opposed the election of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Norman introduced Haley, characterizing her as someone who shares some of the same qualities as Trump. 

"In 2016, President Trump was exactly what the Republican Party and our country needed," Norman said. "You see for too long, the Republican Party has been marginalized and watered down by liberals in both government and throughout the media. But when President Trump came along, he reminded Republicans how to stand boldly for our beliefs and commitments to the freedoms that we enjoy today. And I want to thank Donald Trump for his service and his place as one of the great leaders of all time. During the Trump years, folks, the American people recognized what qualities we needed in a leader. Nikki Haley has those very qualities desperately needed in America today — a fierce, a bold leader, who will fight for America." 

One of the Haley supporters who took the stage before her was Cindy Warmbier, the mother of Otto Warmbier, who died after he returned unconscious and unresponsive from custody in North Korea. She said Haley helped the Warmbier family as they fought the North Korean regime's injustices in the wake of their son's death, and sent the family texts and emails to check in on them. 

"I came here to tell you how Nikki Haley changed my life," Cindy Warmbier said. "To tell you that Nikki was a glimmer of light in the darkest period of my life. To tell you why America would be lucky to have Nikki Haley in the White House." 

Haley was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Indian immigrants, a heritage she leaned into in a video declaring her candidacy on Tuesday. Haley noted her parents were in the audience on Wednesday.

"My parents left India in search of a better life," Haley said. "They found it in Bamberg, South Carolina, population 2,500. Our little town came to love us ... but it wasn't always easy. We were the only Indian family. Nobody knew who we were, what we were, or why we were there. But my parents knew. And every day, they reminded my brothers and my sister that even on our worst day, we are blessed to live in America." 

Haley rose to prominence during her two terms as governor, notably after she ordered the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. The move came in response to the racially motivated shooting of nine people by a white supremacist at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015.

Following her campaign launch in Charleston, Haley is set to travel to New Hampshire and Iowa, the first two states on the GOP presidential primary calendar.

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