Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley will kick off her campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination this month, squaring off against her one-time boss, Donald Trump, two sources familiar with her plans said on Wednesday.
The move would make her just the second declared Republican candidate and could set the stage for a more combative phase of the campaign, potentially putting her in the sights of the pugnacious former US president.
Ms Haley’s campaign sent an email to supporters on Wednesday inviting them to a February 15th event in Charleston. There she will declare her candidacy, the sources said.
South Carolina is expected to host one of the first Republican nominating primaries in 2024 and will play an important role in picking the eventual candidate.
The daughter of two Indian immigrants who ran a successful clothing store in a rural part of the state, Ms Haley has gained a reputation in the Republican Party as a solid conservative who has the ability to address issues of gender and race in a more credible fashion than many of her peers.
She has also pitched herself as a stalwart defender of American interests abroad, having served as US ambassador to the United Nations under Mr Trump from 2017 to 2018. During that time, the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed under Democratic president Barack Obama and was highly unpopular among Republicans.
One Haley associate said she chose to launch her campaign this early to try to grab voters’ attention and shake up a race that had so far been dominated by Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has not yet declared whether he will run.
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Many key Republican donors and elected officials in South Carolina have been looking for alternatives to Mr Trump amid concerns about his electability, according to conversations in recent weeks with more than a dozen party officials and strategists.
Several prominent Republicans, including Ms Haley and US senator Tim Scott, opted to skip a Trump campaign appearance in Columbia on Saturday, which was intended to showcase his support in the state.
Mr Scott, often considered a presidential contender himself, will start a “listening tour focused on Faith in America” in Charleston a day after Ms Haley’s event, according to a campaign advisory. He will then swing through Iowa, another key early voting state.
Trump told reporters on Saturday that Ms Haley had called him to say she was considering a run and that he told her “go by your heart if you want to run,” according to multiple media reports.
Ms Haley received national attention in 2015 when, as governor, she signed a bill into law removing the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol, following the murder of nine black churchgoers by white supremacist Dylann Roof.
If she were to win the nomination, Ms Haley would be the first woman at the top of the Republican presidential ticket in history, as well as the party’s first non-white nominee.
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Among her big challenges will be nailing down a consistent message. Even in a field where most candidates have changed their mind about key issues multiple times, Ms Haley is particularly chameleonic.
She has distanced herself from Mr Trump several times, only to later soften her rhetoric, saying he has an important role to play in the Republican Party.
While she has criticised Republicans for baselessly casting doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election, she campaigned on behalf of multiple candidates who supported Trump’s false election fraud claims during the 2022 midterms.
Even as she has at times adopted a conciliatory message on racial issues, she often opts for a less measured tone. In November, she said at a campaign rally that Democratic Georgia senator Raphael Warnock, a Black man born in Savannah, should be “deported”.
South Carolina is historically the third state to host the Republican nominating contest, and it often plays an outsized role in the race. Ms Haley, who governed the state from 2011 to 2017, is popular there, polls show.
Mr Trump and Mr DeSantis have been active in the state.
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While Ms Haley comes into the race as an underdog – most national polls show her support in the single digits – she is used to running from behind, having gained a reputation in political circles for coming out on top in tough-to-win races.
A spokesperson for Ms Haley declined to comment on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Scott did not immediately respond to a request for comment. – Reuters