By Steve Holland and Andy Sullivan
(MAINNEWS) – WASHINGTON, Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Tuesday kicked off her campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, challenging her former boss Donald Trump, who holds a strong lead in a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.
“It’s time for a new generation of leadership,” Haley said in a video her team sent out by email as she joined Trump as the only announced 2024 candidates.
Haley, a former South Carolina governor who served as the U.N. ambassador under Trump from 2017 to 2018, is set to lay out her campaign plans in a speech on Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina.
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley, 51, 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.
Launching her candidacy more than 20 months ahead of the November 2024 election gives Haley a chance to draw attention before the Republican field grows in the coming weeks and months.
It also makes her an early target of the combative Trump.
“You should know this about me: I don’t put up with bullies. And when you kick back it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels,” Haley said in the video.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that 4% of registered Republicans supported Haley, far behind Trump at 43% and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential candidate, at 31%.
Other potential candidates include former Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, among others.
A day after Haley’s event, Scott will kick off a “listening tour” in Charleston, according to a campaign advisory. He will then swing through Iowa, another key early voting state.
Taylor Budowich, head of the pro-Trump Make America Great Again group, dismissed Haley’s announcement.
“Nikki Haley is just another career politician,” he 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.
Many Republican leaders in the state have been looking for alternatives to Trump amid concerns about his electability, according to more than a dozen party officials and strategists.
Several prominent Republicans, including Haley and Scott, skipped a Trump campaign appearance last month in Columbia that was intended to showcase his support in the state.
TOOK DOWN CONFEDERATE FLAG
Haley won national acclaim in 2015, when she rallied the state’s business community and legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State Capitol grounds after a racist gunman killed nine Black parishioners at a church in Charleston.
It was a difficult task. Many white residents of the state see the flag as a memorial to ancestors who fought in the Civil War, while many Black residents see it as a symbol of oppression.
“People don’t understand, unless you were here, just what a demonstrative act of leadership that was,” said Tom Davis, a Republican state senator who is backing Haley’s presidential bid.
Haley drew criticism in 2019 for saying on a conservative radio show that people saw the flag as a symbol of “service, sacrifice and heritage.”
She blamed the blowback on “outrage culture” and pointed out that her comments echoed those she made in 2015.
Haley has pitched herself as a stalwart defender of American interests abroad. During her stint as an ambassador to the United Nations, the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed under Democratic President Barack Obama and was highly unpopular among Republicans.
She has distanced herself from Trump several times, only to later soften her rhetoric, saying he has an important role to play in the Republican Party.
While she has criticized Republicans for baselessly casting doubt on the results of the 2020 election, she campaigned ahead of the 2022 midterm elections on behalf of multiple candidates who supported Trump’s false election fraud claims.
The fact that Haley is a woman and of Indian descent could give her a stronger voice on hot-button identity issues, like teaching Black history, that animate many of the party’s most loyal voters, supporters said.
“You can raise those concerns and talk about those issues in a way that doesn’t subject you to being characterized as a racist,” Davis said.