Taza Khabre

In Iowa, Nikki Haley seems beyond the onslaught of her rivals

In her first campaign since Wednesday’s contentious Republican debate, Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and former South Carolina governor, largely ignored the many attacks her fellow candidates, aware of her surge in the polls, lobbed at her. What she discussed suggests she continued to feel the criticism was not, as she said Wednesday night, “worth my time.”

Speaking to about 100 people in a conference room at a convention center in Sioux City, Iowa, on Friday, Ms Haley stuck to themes that have become cornerstones of her campaign – her foreign policy experience and her willingness to tell “hard truths”. She criticized China, promised to be a fiscally responsible president and even answered a question about fears that Venezuela might attack its South American neighbor, Guyana.

Despite a growing rivalry with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to become the main alternative to former President Donald J. Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, Ms. Haley did not mention Mr. DeSantis by name or mention the debate — where he was in the firing line for much of the evening — until the final minutes. events.

Asked by voters about her positioning in the race, Ms. Haley said she did not think she needed to win the Iowa caucuses to be successful.

“The momentum is on our side,” she said. “The way I see it, we just need to have a good showing in Iowa. I don’t think that means we have to win, but I think we have to have a good performance.”

Ms. Haley also appeared to hint that she would not accept an offer to be Mr. Trump’s vice president, should he win the nomination and ask her. “I’ve never played for another,” she said.

Ms. Haley’s campaign has gained momentum in recent weeks. Many national polls now have her in a tight second-place race with Mr. DeSantis, and she is at a similar level in Iowa, with roughly 17.5 percent. (Mr. Trump is far ahead of both of them, with more than 45 percent.)

Late last month, Americans for Prosperity Action, a conservative political network founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, endorsed Ms. Haley, giving her campaign access to the network’s financial power and a pool of staff members to knock on doors and make phone calls.

During the Republican debate in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Wednesday, Ms. Haley’s rising profile made her the target of frequent attacks from Mr. DeSantis and the entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Mr Ramaswamy attacked her in particular, calling her a “fascist”, claiming she was in the pocket of business interests and at one point held up a notepad on which he had written: “Nikki = corrupt”.

“I love all the attention, guys,” Ms. Haley joked at one point, although she seemed, at least at times, to fade into the background of the debate. Some analysts subsequently suggested that Ms. Haley did not mount a strong enough defense.

Unlike Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who repeated his heated debates during his campaign in New Hampshire on Thursday, Ms. Haley appears to have moved on. She said the debates served to gain ground, and predicted that another candidate – apparently Mr. DeSantis, though she did not name him – would drop out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.

“We’ve got three big guys going to Iowa, and I think after Iowa one will drop out,” Ms. Haley said. “And then I think you’re going to play with me and Trump in New Hampshire, and then we’re going to go to my home state of South Carolina, and then we’re going to take it.”

Many in attendance in Sioux City seemed to agree with Ms. Haley’s decision to largely ignore her opponents’ attacks, saying they admired her performance in Wednesday’s debate.

“She did so well in the debate,” said Adrienne Dunn, a 48-year-old Sioux City resident who is leaning toward voting for Ms. Haley but has not made a final decision. “She was ready. She had good answers.”

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