Haley Battles Trump: What to Watch in the New Hampshire Primary

Voters line up to cast their ballots in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(Bloomberg News/TNS) — New Hampshire’s primary Tuesday is the stage for a crucial showdown between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley — the last major challenger standing between the former president and the GOP nomination.

The Republican field has winnowed after Trump’s commanding victory in Iowa last week, leaving the frontrunner eager for another blowout win to all but wrap up the nomination and allow him to turn his attention to President Joe Biden.

Haley has built up New Hampshire to be a make-or-break moment for her campaign. She’s betting on the state’s more moderate electorate and independents who can cast ballots in the primary to help her pull off an upset. It’s her best shot to damage Trump as restless donors demand a result that proves she can take on the Republican standard-bearer.

On the Democratic side, Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips is hoping voters punish Biden, who will only appear as a write-in candidate, for skipping New Hampshire’s primary. An unexpectedly strong showing from Phillips threatens to embarrass Biden and fuel more questions about his reelection bid.

Here’s what to watch:

Will this be Haley’s big moment?

New Hampshire presents a key opportunity for Haley, who trails Trump there by a smaller margin than in other states. Her campaign has targeted independent voters, who outnumber both Democrats and Republicans. Under state rules, these voters can pick either Democratic or Republican ballots in a presidential primary. In addition, Democrats could have switched their affiliation by last fall to get the ability to cast votes in the Republican primary. 

Haley’s fate largely rests on the turnout of undeclared voters and former Democrats. A loss or a poor showing could lead to donors dropping their support and the party coalescing around the former president.

Will voters turn out in New Hampshire?

Republicans are expecting voter turnout to hit record levels, a contrast to last week’s Iowa caucuses, which saw the lowest turnout in more than a decade. The current Republican primary record of about 288,000 votes was set in 2016 for Trump’s first White House bid. 

“If we see absolute raw voting vote totals that are similar to what we saw in 2016, that’s a good sign for Trump,” said Greg Moore, a senior adviser for Americans for Prosperity Action, a super political action committee supporting Haley, in an interview with Bloomberg News in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Sunday. “If we see numbers that are substantially higher, I think that definitely benefits Haley.” 

Phillips v. Biden

Phillips’ presidential bid comes at a particularly fraught moment in the Granite State. South Carolina, which gave Biden a key victory in 2020, became the first Democratic primary state after the party changed its rules — taking away that designation from New Hampshire.

But since New Hampshire has a state law mandating that it hold the first primary, the election will go on as before. Biden declined to appear on the ballot, but Phillips is on it.

Democratic officials have organized a write-in campaign to demonstrate support for the president. An embarrassing showing could deepen concerns about Biden’s reelection chances in a race where polls show voters unenthusiastic about a November contest between him and Trump.

First results

All six voters in the tiny community of Dixville Notch cast their paper ballots for Haley. They voted just after midnight, a tradition that dates to 1960.

Elsewhere in the state, start times vary, from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. While many will close at 7 p.m., some polling places will stay open as late as 8 p.m., and the race will be called after that. That’s a contrast to the Iowa caucuses, where Trump was declared the winner 30 minutes into voting – and in some precincts, before Iowans even had the chance to cast their ballots. 

What’s next?

South Carolina Republicans will make their picks on Feb. 24, and Trump leads Haley there by about 30 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls. Losing the Palmetto State, where Haley was born and where she served as governor, would deal a devastating blow to her campaign. 

A decisive win for Trump in New Hampshire would give him even more momentum for South Carolina and boost expectations of a November rematch with Biden.

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