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During a campaign swing through New Hampshire, Nikki Haley gains momentum


National polls put Donald Trump far ahead of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. But in the early voting state of New Hampshire, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has vaulted into second place. Josh Rogers of New Hampshire Public Radio reports.

JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: When Nikki Haley speaks in New Hampshire - and at this point, she's logged more than 50 local campaign events - she often ends by noting her odds in this race may seem long, but she likes her chances.


NIKKI HALEY: I have been underestimated in everything I've ever done, and it's a blessing because it makes me scrappy. No one's going to outwork me in this race. No one's going to outsmart me in this race, because we have a country to save.

ROGERS: Haley's prescription for saving America - equal parts fiscal discipline, muscular diplomacy and traditional family values - can feel like a throwback to the pre-Trump GOP. And at times, Haley does almost sound like she's running on nostalgia itself.


HALEY: Do you remember when you were growing up how simple life was, how safe it felt? It was about faith, family and country.

ROGERS: Haley's approach to winning over 2024 Republican voters, conservative policies but pitched without the hard edges of some of her GOP rivals, appears to be working. Several recent polls show her gaining steam in New Hampshire. And as she's campaigned here, Haley's shown a deft touch navigating issues that divide her party. From Ukraine - Haley supports strong U.S. backing of the country - to Trump, who she mostly praises but also calls thin-skinned and perhaps the most conspicuously on the combustible issue of abortion. Haley identifies as unapologetically pro-life and signed a 20-week abortion ban as governor. But she also downplays the idea of pushing for new federal abortion prohibitions.


HALEY: We have to humanize this issue. I am not going to be part of demonizing this issue. It's too personal to everyone. And the fellas have done that for too long, no offense. But it is time that we start treating it like the sensitive topic that it is.

ROGERS: That was Haley speaking to the Portsmouth Rotary Club recently. Several Republicans in the crowd praised Haley's resume, message and approach. New Hampshire is a place where plenty of GOP voters do support abortion rights. Former state Republican Party Chairman Wayne Semprini likes Haley's positioning on abortion. While undecided in this race, he was leaning towards Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. But Semprini believes DeSantis doomed his chances of reaching the Oval Office when he signed Florida's law banning abortion after six weeks.


WAYNE SEMPRINI: While I like him, I like a lot of things he's done, I think he's taken himself right out of the game when it comes to the general election. But she's a sharp gal.

ROGERS: Haley's rise here is mostly coming at DeSantis' expense, so says Neil Levesque of Saint Anselm College's Institute of Politics, which recently released a poll showing Haley overtaking DeSantis for second place in New Hampshire.

NEIL LEVESQUE: His numbers have started to seriously decline. And it looks like those voters who were siding with him are now primarily in the Nikki Haley column.

ROGERS: The challenge for Haley and any other Republican hoping to top Trump for the GOP nomination is swings in momentum here don't seem to be affecting him.

LEVESQUE: The issue is, is that Trump's supporters are not dropping off of Trump, so it's not like he's losing people to Nikki Haley, at least not yet.

ROGERS: That could change. But for any Republican to reel in Trump, the GOP field will need to shrink. Haley regularly shares her preferred timetable for that winnowing as she campaigns.


HALEY: A couple will drop off in Iowa. They'll come to New Hampshire. I think you're looking at three, maybe four. Couple will drop off, and you'll have a head-to-head in my sweet home state of South Carolina.


ROGERS: The more traction Haley gains in New Hampshire, the more plausible that scenario could become. For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000 and serves as NHPRâââ