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‘Nikki! Nikki!’: ex-Trumpists anoint new champion for 2024

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Nikki Haley announced on February 14 she is running for president in 2024, becoming the first high-profile candidate to challenge former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination./AFP
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Feb 16, 2023 - 02:03 AM

CHARLESTON, UNITES STATES — Among the crowd cheering on Nikki Haley’s US presidential campaign launch Wednesday was a group sure to worry her most high-profile rival: Donald Trump fans who backed him in two elections but are seeking a change candidate for 2024.

Teacher Paula Blank says she made “a very quick decision” to sign up as soon as she heard that Haley was making a “special announcement” in South Carolina, the southern state where the Republican was governor for six years.

“I saw a thing that said you’re invited to come and get free tickets. I’m in New Jersey. I called my friends and said, ‘I want to go — do you want to come?'” the 59-year-old told AFP.

Blank voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 but said she had been waiting years for a White House run by Haley who, at 51, is the youngest of the credible Republican hopefuls and, so far, the only woman.

“I love that she’s articulate, that she gets it, that she sees the world as it is,” said Blank.

‘Tough as nails’ 

Haley, who quit the governor’s mansion in Columbia to be Trump’s US ambassador to the United Nations in 2017, had planned to announce her campaign at her launch event in the Palmetto State’s largest city, Charleston.

But the cat was already out of the bag as the Republican hopeful had shared a video a day earlier in which she confirmed her first run for the White House.

The applause was uproarious in any case when she invited Americans to send “a woman tough as nails” to the White House.

“Nikki! Nikki!” chanted the exuberant crowd, gathered in an elongated, shed-like hangar surrounded by churches, ice cream shops and oyster restaurants.

Haley had insisted she would not run if Trump entered the race. His campaign has played nice so far but a mail-out timed to land just as Haley had finished speaking signaled that the kid gloves were off.

There was none of Trump’s signature name-calling but a press release capitalized on one of Haley’s biggest perceived weaknesses, her shifting allegiances and policy positions, pointing to what it characterized as her previous support for moderate Republicans and Democratic grandee Hillary Clinton.

The Haley supporters interviewed by AFP were largely pro-Trump, happy that the 76-year-old tycoon had a turn in the White House, but convinced that it was time for someone with a less abrasive style.

Accountant Robin Christmas, 63, from nearby Greenville, said Trump was too rude and it was Haley, not the former president, who had inspired her to get involved in a primary campaign for the first time.

“She’s just great,” the bespectacled volunteer said, proudly wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with Haley’s name.

‘American dream’ 

Polling since the last presidential election has demonstrated that Haley has all her work ahead of her.

She has slumped under four percent in the RealClearPolitics average, placing far behind Trump and potential rivals such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Yet her supporters are unfazed by the popularity gap.

“It’s time to move on,” said Adam Caldwell, who was chilled by the events of January 6, 2021, when a pro-Trump mob ransacked the US Capitol in Washington.

Caldwell had driven almost 250 miles (400 kilometers) from neighboring North Carolina to celebrate his 30th birthday at the event and told AFP that Haley, a child of Indian immigrants, embodied the “American dream.”

“Her parents were immigrants. They came here and they started a life here and now they see their daughter running for the highest position in the country.”

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