MANCHESTER, N.H. — The GOP presidential race bounded into snow-covered New Hampshire on Tuesday, with new frictions erupting among the three remaining candidates as Donald Trump aimed to build on his landslide Iowa victory in a pivotal battleground.
Trump and his two long-shot rivals turned their attention to the Granite State a week before a primary seen as perhaps the final chance for Republicans seeking a Trump alternative to slow his march to the nomination. The former president, fresh off a resounding success in Iowa, set his sights on a second straight decisive win in an early state where his advantage has been narrowest.
Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who has emerged as the biggest threat to Trump in New Hampshire, sharpened her attacks on his age. After a third-place finish in Iowa on Monday that fell short of some expectations, Haley sought to position herself as the chief alternative to Trump, shrugging off planned debates with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and saying she would participate only in set-tos with Trump and President Biden. DeSantis accused Haley of running to be Trump’s vice president and said that he’d “honor my commitments” and debate “two empty podiums” in New Hampshire. But Manchester television station WMUR and ABC News canceled a debate planned for Thursday.
Trump’s first stop was in New York on Tuesday to appear in court for a case in which a jury will determine how much he owes in damages for defaming writer E. Jean Carroll by denying that he sexually assaulted her and accusing her of lying. Later, he was set to deliver remarks at a country club in New Hampshire.
Ahead of his appearance in the state, Trump attacked Haley on social media, mocking her for coming in third in Iowa despite receiving financial backing from Americans for Prosperity Action, the political group funded by conservative billionaire Charles Koch.
The results in Iowa emboldened supporters of the former president, whose split-screen appearances in court and on the campaign trail Tuesday underscored how Trump has tried to use his legal challenges to shore up support and sympathy among his base. Trump defeated DeSantis by some 30 points in Iowa, amassing more support than DeSantis and Haley combined. Vivek Ramaswamy, a first-time candidate who competed for Trump supporters, dropped out and planned to appear with Trump at an event in New Hampshire on Tuesday evening. Hundreds of Trump supporters stood for hours in the snow and sleet to see Trump, some arriving as early as 10 a.m.
DeSantis effectively ceded New Hampshire and its more moderate, secular terrain last year, as his aligned groups shifted their focus to Iowa amid turmoil and cost-cutting in his campaign. The Florida governor, who has sunk to single digits in some New Hampshire polls, flew to South Carolina for a brief stop to highlight Haley’s weakness in her home state and to signal to donors that he is building an effort beyond the first two contests. He planned to return to New Hampshire later Tuesday for a meet-and-greet with seniors, followed by a CNN town hall. On Monday, he thanked his supporters for helping him “get a ticket punched out of the Hawkeye State.”
The Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary offers anti-Trump Republicans the best chance of stalling the former president’s momentum. Haley pulled to within single digits of Trump in one recent survey with a pitch rooted in her general-election appeal against Biden.
At an unannounced stop at Chutters candy store in Littleton, Haley said the country could not achieve its goals of securing the border, reducing the national debt and improving its education system if the general election turns into a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
“You can’t do that if you’ve got two 80-year-olds as the choice of where we are going to go,” she said. “We can’t do that if 70 percent of Americans say they don’t want a Trump-Biden rematch. You can’t do that if the majority of people say they don’t think kindly of those two.” (Biden is 81 and Trump is 77.)
As the snow fell hard and fast in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Haley spent the day traveling north in whiteout conditions, aiming to fight for support even in rural corners of the state. As she met voters, Trump complained on Truth Social that he was being persecuted in New York, claiming the trial was an effort to keep him off the campaign trail, even though he was not required to be in the courtroom.
Haley has effectively narrowed the New Hampshire race to a one-on-one contest with Trump by building a coalition of GOP voters who are ready to move on from the former president, as well as independents who reject what they see as his extreme agenda and brash conduct.
Haley’s campaign, as well as the outside groups allied with her bid, has targeted unaffiliated voters, who make up 39 percent of the state’s electorate overall and could have an outsize influence because there is no real contest on the Democratic side. New Hampshire allows independent voters to participate in either party’s primary. (Biden will not even appear on the New Hampshire ballot after the Democratic Party opted to launch its nominating season in South Carolina.)
In the Granite State, a Trump-Haley showdown has been escalating. After allowing Haley to dominate the airwaves late last year, Trump and his aligned groups began matching her team’s spending in January and are portraying Haley, Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, as a “globalist” and a pawn of Democratic, Wall Street donors who are determined to deprive him of the GOP nomination.
“He can keep talking about it all he wants. It actually helps drive turnout more than anything,” said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who supports Haley.
Foreign policy was on the minds of Trump supporters at his rally Tuesday night. New Hampshire state legislator Scott Wallace had been backing DeSantis, but switched his endorsement to Trump because he said the former president would be ready on day one to deal with foreign crises and DeSantis would face a learning curve.
“The geopolitical world has changed quite a bit,” Wallace said.
Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester, said Trump may be vulnerable because the state includes more highly educated and fewer blue-collar voters than others.
“That said, Trump is like a goal post,” Levesque added, noting that his support remained steady in the mid-40s in polling throughout all of last year’s controversies. “He doesn’t go up, and he doesn’t go down. That’s because people know who he is — and they either love him or they don’t.”
Haley had little ground organization here before Americans for Prosperity Action endorsed her. The group has harnessed its data to reach voters through online ads, phone calls and door-knocking.
Alan Leo, 68, of Waterville Valley said he had never volunteered for a campaign before Haley’s and has darted across the state placing Haley signs in snowdrifts and knocking on doors. “I knew I had to get off my butt because I don’t want to see another Trump presidency,” he said. He dismissed Trump’s constant talk of retribution against critics if he returns to office. “I’m done with that,” Leo added. “I’m retired. You know what I want? I want to have a nice, sane life.”
Volunteers have largely built Trump’s ground game in New Hampshire. Many began organizing their counties, towns and wards early last year. Di Lothrop, Trump’s Nashua city captain, has made thousands of phone calls and knocked on hundreds of doors. She said she doesn’t believe the polls “because most of them are fake” and predicted that Trump’s support will be overwhelming, even in cities with a bluer tinge like her own.
Both sides agree that the race could come down to what unaffiliated voters do.
The political leanings of independents in New Hampshire are complex and often misunderstood. While some lean Democratic and many are centrists or former Republicans who have been driven away by Trump’s brand of politics, they are often miscast as a group that is liberal-leaning.
In fact, many are libertarian with isolationist, conservative tendencies that align with Trump’s politics. Trump campaign officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy predict that a large swath of the undeclared voters — who can ask for the primary ballot of either party on Election Day — will swing his way rather than Haley’s.
Trump and his allies have highlighted Haley’s support from some Democrats to argue she is insufficiently conservative. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has called on liberal Democrats to back her, and moves by Democratic donors such as Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn who gave $250,000 to a super PAC backing her, have also attracted attention.
The idea that Haley “is somehow attracting moderate, independent and disaffected Republican votes is significantly hurting her,” said GOP strategist Matthew Bartlett, who has advised New Hampshire candidates.
When a Haley-aligned canvasser knocked on her door in Manchester last week, Randi, a 77-year-old Republican voter who did not want to give her last name, said she at first had been interested in Haley. But recently, she said, she had read online and heard from friends that Haley is a “globalist” who favors “a world government” rather than a U.S. government, an incorrect claim.
But Robert Clark, a 76-year-old Republican from Manchester, ultimately settled on Haley after Sununu endorsed her because he “trusts” the four-term governor.
Trump, Clark said, “seems incompetent. His tenure was chaos.”
Joel Achenbach in Atkinson, New Hampshire contributed to this report.