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Haley faces uphill battle as South Carolina Republicans rally behind Trump

Analyzing Haley's chances in GOP primary
Analyzing Nikki Haley's chances in the 2024 race, Biden's reelection bid, more 11:03

Following a third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, and a loss to former President Donald Trump by over 10 points in New Hampshire's Republican primary, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley remains determined to continue her campaign in her home state of South Carolina.

But despite Haley's two-term governorship, only Rep. Ralph Norman and a handful of state legislators are backing her over Trump in the Feb. 24 Republican primary. The majority of Republican figures in the state — including Gov. Henry McMaster, Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, and five of the state's six House Republicans — have thrown their support behind Trump. They cite his perceived path to victory as the rationale for endorsing the former president.

Trump has also garnered support from 66 South Carolina state legislators, according to his campaign. Haley's campaign says she has 12 state legislators behind her. 

South Carolina state Rep. Sylleste Davis said she feels Haley has run a good campaign, but "at some point the inevitability of President Trump becomes apparent."

Haley's lone congressional supporter, Norman, told CNN Wednesday that he personally likes Trump, but stood by his decision to support Haley, pointing out that Trump went too far by attacking her in his victory speech at the New Hampshire GOP primary.

"I endorsed Nikki in February of last year," Norman said. "I called Donald Trump before because I respect him. I said, President Trump, I'm gonna endorse Nikki. And he was real kind. And I think at the time he didn't think she had a chance, but I knew Nikki had a chance." 

"She is as resolved and determined as anybody I've ever seen. So the 48 states left, she will compete, and I think it's good for the system. Competition is good, Kaitlan," he added.

Norman has also shown support by accompanying Haley on the campaign trail. Norman introduced Haley on stage during a welcome-home rally in Charleston Wednesday, encouraging South Carolinians to stand with her. 

One of Trump's supporters, Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, started out in Congress as somewhat of a Trump critic, but over time has shifted her stance. 

"I don't see eye to eye perfectly with any candidate. And until now I've stayed out of it. But the time has come to unite behind our nominee," Mace said Monday in a social media post endorsing Trump. "To be honest, it's been a complete s— show since he left the White House."

On Friday, Mace's former top aide, Daniel Hanlon, filed paperwork to run against his old boss in June's congressional primary, a rare move. 

Haley endorsed Mace during her primary campaign in 2022, where she faced off against a Trump-backed candidate.  

The Haley campaign suffered its biggest blow last week when Scott endorsed Trump over Haley. The endorsement came despite Haley in 2013 appointing Scott to the Senate, replacing retiring Sen. Jim DeMint.

Trump, addressing supporters Tuesday after his New Hampshire win, said to Scott: "And you're the senator of her state and [you] endorsed me. You must really hate her."

Scott laughed and replied, "I just love you."

In light of these setbacks, the Haley campaign remains undeterred. The campaign said it expected a loss in Iowa and alleged that it was always hoping for 40% or more of the votes in New Hampshire. The Granite State was meant to minnow the field, according to the super PAC, SFA Fund Inc., supporting Haley.

"Listen, we've only had two states that have voted," Haley said Wednesday. "We got 48 more that deserve to vote."

Addressing the lack of support in her home state, the campaign said, "Nikki has always been the anti-establishment, conservative candidate. As governor, she signed pro-life legislation, cracked down on illegal immigration, turned South Carolina into an economic powerhouse, and took on both parties over spending and transparency issues. While Trump courts all of Washington, it's clear he's become the establishment."

As Haley persists, even some members of the Republican National Committee are openly advocating for her withdrawal from the race. 

During a Fox News interview Tuesday following Trump's victory in New Hampshire, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that after "looking at the math and the path going forward," she didn't believe Haley could win. 

"We need to unite around our eventual nominee, which is going to be Donald Trump, and we need to make sure we beat Joe Biden," McDaniel said.

On Thursday, when news broke of the RNC's draft resolution, which was later pulled, which would declare Trump as the party's nominee, Haley's campaign responded by saying, "if Ronna McDaniel wants to be helpful, she can organize a debate in South Carolina, unless she's also worried that Trump can't handle being on the stage for 90 minutes with Nikki Haley."

Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.

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