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Haley on the trail: Lively events amid little chance of stopping Trump

DALLAS — Nikki Haley’s rally had all the trappings of a competitive campaign: She spoke under a giant shining disco ball to more than a thousand enthusiastic supporters waving “Nikki Haley for President” and “Women for Nikki” signs. Fresh off a fundraising spree in Texas, a delegate-rich Super Tuesday state deep in the primary calendar, she talked ambitiously about her prospects.

“I just got one more fella I got to catch up to,” the former U.N. ambassador declared here Thursday evening in front of a row Texas flags in a speech that marked the first anniversary of her presidential campaign launch.

But as she runs in many ways like a candidate closing in Donald Trump, she has not made a dent in his dominant lead, and he is in control of the Republican race. Haley is losing badly in her home state of South Carolina, which votes on Feb. 24, polls show. While Haley has projected confidence and reminded supporters that only a small number of states have voted, she has been continuously dogged by questions about when she will end her campaign, and many party leaders have written her off.

Even her lively event here underscored her challenges. Supporters in attendance said they hope she continues her fight but that they are not optimistic she can defeat Trump.

When Haley launched her long-shot bid for the presidency in Charleston, S.C., last February, she became the first candidate to challenge Trump for the GOP nomination. In the 12 months since she jumped into the race, 10 other Republicans launched and then suspended their own presidential bids — leaving Haley once again the lone Trump rival, and a massive underdog in the fight to lead the party.

She outlasted opponents such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who entered the contest with loftier expectations, and has come closest to Trump in an early-state race. But that was a distinction that only went so far, with Trump beating her by double digits in New Hampshire after an even bigger win in Iowa. In Nevada, Haley later suffered an embarrassing defeat to “none of these candidates” in a nonbinding contest that Trump skipped.

Haley’s event here at a music hall Thursday also demonstrated how her campaign has changed in the past 12 months. Speaking at the open-air Charleston Visitor Center last February, Haley mentioned Trump only once, to remind supporters that he nominated her for her post at the United Nations. Beyond that, she took veiled swipes at him, speaking of “faded names” and “stale ideas.”

“We’ve lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans,” she said at her launch last year. “Well, that ends today. If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation.”

Here in Dallas, Haley repeatedly attacked the former president — accusing him of throwing temper tantrums, criticizing him for his numerous legal cases and blaming him for Republican losses.

“Trump lost in 2018. He lost it for us in 2020. He lost it for us in 2022,” she said.

She hit Trump for his legal troubles, on a day that the former president spent in court.

“He’s already said he’s going to spend most of this year in a courtroom, not on a campaign trail. That’s not a way you win,” she said. She then ticked through other GOP sore points, including congressional votes and the turnover at the Republican National Committee, concluding: “Trump had his fingerprints on all of it. Everything he touches, we lose.”

Haley in recent weeks has also stepped up her criticism of both Trump and Biden’s age, and she has questioned Trump’s mental fitness for the job.

Even as many Republicans have concluded that the race for the nomination is effectively settled, Haley has found ways to garner some attention, appearing recently on “Saturday Night Live,” for example. And Thursday’s event was still something of a magnet for critics, as she faced interruptions from pro-Palestinian protesters.

Haley has frequently mentioned being underestimated in past races, saying: “I’ve never known what it’s like to not be the underdog.” She and her allies have talked about continuing deeper into the primary season, mapping out strategies in states such as Texas that vote on “Super Tuesday” in early March. But the history of campaigns is strewn with candidates who spoke about a long run that never materialized. DeSantis adopted similar talk before abruptly ending his bid last month.

Haley supporters at the event said they appreciate her greater focus on Trump and expressed hope that she remains in the race. Barry Green, a Republican from Greenville, Tex., said he would support “Donald Duck if he was running against Trump.” He is supporting Haley because she “is the most credible candidate opposing” him, he said.

“We can’t let him ease into the office unopposed. He needs some opposition,” Green said of his hope that Haley stays in the race.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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