DeSantis has his sights set on weakening Haley in South Carolina as they both seek a one-on-one race with Trump


Manchester, New Hampshire — The spotlight in the race for the Republican presidential nomination has shifted to New Hampshire ahead of Tuesday’s primary. But as one challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, sweeps the state, his operation is also focusing attention on a more distant contest — South Carolina’s Feb. 24 primary.

Unlike his rivals, former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, DeSantis did not travel directly to New Hampshire after Monday’s Iowa caucuses, in which he finished a distant second behind Trump, and instead headed to the Palmetto State.

There, on Tuesday, he packed an airplane hangar for a rally in Greenville and held a news conference at the state Capitol in Columbia.

While he returned to New Hampshire in time for a planned evening rally that was ultimately canceled due to weather, DeSantis may make more stops in South Carolina before New Hampshire voters cast their ballots, according to people familiar with his campaign’s thinking.

A senior campaign official confirms that the majority of DeSantis’ staff has been relocated to South Carolina and will host campaign events there on Saturday and Sunday.

This approach flies in the face of the typical strategy of presidential contenders, who tend to capitalize on New Hampshire’s second-place finish on the nomination calendar by spending the entire gap between Iowa and New Hampshire in the latter state.

But DeSantis’ campaign sees some opportunities to pressure Haley in her home state with limited downside for him in New Hampshire, where his overall support has fallen to roughly 25 points behind Haley, according to the latest polling average of 538 in the state.

In South Carolina, DeSantis trails Haley by half and has received more endorsements from state lawmakers than she has.

However, each still trails Trump by double digits in both states, according to 538.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally on January 16, 2024 in Greenville, South Carolina.

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally on January 16, 2024 in Greenville, South Carolina.

Jeffrey Collins/AP

A person who spoke to members of DeSantis’ campaign told ABC News that his aides view South Carolina as a state that, by potentially beating Haley in her home state, could knock her out of the race and finally create a DeSantis-Trump double win. The main person he had sought for months.

For her part, Haley sees the same scenario playing out in the opposite direction, as she can help put an end to DeSantis’ candidacy by delivering a strong performance in New Hampshire, where she is ranked second in the polls. Both have publicly pledged to remain in the race.

That DeSantis is eyeing a contest that’s still weeks away doesn’t come as a huge surprise to those around him.

“He views this as a marathon,” Nick Yarosi, co-chair of DeSantis’ National Financial Advisory Board, told ABC News. Confronting a former president will not take place in one or two states.”

According to Yarossi and others associated with the campaign, DeSantis has privately said he will remain in the race at least through Super Tuesday on March 5.

“We will have enough money and a motivated team to raise it,” Yarosi said, adding that the campaign is ready “to fight our way into a two-man race with Trump on Super Tuesday.”

Efforts to raise money for the upcoming term began hours after DeSantis lost in Iowa. On Tuesday’s call, fundraisers for the campaign argued that despite DeSantis’ defeat, the nearly half of Republican voters in Iowa who voted for someone other than Trump showed there was an opportunity to give voters the choice of someone else — in their view, DeSantis.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley shakes hands during a campaign stop, January 16, 2024, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.

Republican presidential candidate and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley shakes hands during a campaign stop, on January 16, 2024, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.

Charles Krupa/AP

In Columbia, South Carolina, the governor said Tuesday that he would devote more time and resources to the state.

“I think you’ll see us being more present, not only in terms of me being in the state more but also in terms of paid media, where we’ll be able to tell our story,” he told reporters. .

“Although it may take a few more weeks to fully get there, this will be a two-on-one race soon enough. Despite spending $24 million in false negative ads against Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley has not been able to buy The fatal shot to herself who was so desperate. “She wanted to… and now she’s going to be out of this race after failing to win her home state on February 24,” DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo said.

Haley’s campaign spokeswoman, Olivia Perez-Cubas, responded in a statement: “There’s a reason this is a two-man race between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. Because our campaign lives in reality. Ron DeSantis’ campaign lives in Disney’s Magic Kingdom.”

Some DeSantis supporters in South Carolina said they welcome the increased interest in their state.

“I believe it is imperative for Governor DeSantis to start early in South Carolina,” said State Rep. Brandon Guffey, who endorsed him. “With our ruler [Henry McMaster] “By supporting Trump and his other competitor being a former governor, he needs to get his message out quickly.”

DeSantis “is the most conservative person on the ballot,” Joffe said.

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