How do DeSantis and Haley see their potential paths to beating Trump?


The 2024 presidential race officially kicked off Monday night with the Iowa GOP caucuses — and the results reaffirmed what polls have shown for months: Many, if not all, GOP voters still favor former President Donald Trump as their nominee for the White House.

Trump received 51% of the votes in the caucuses, about 30 points ahead of rivals Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley.

But the Florida governor and former ambassador to the United Nations promised to continue their election campaigns in the coming weeks. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Haley said Tuesday.

Polls have long suggested that she and DeSantis have a steep hill to climb in competing with Trump over the remainder of the 2024 primary race. However, each has laid out what they believe is their path to potential victory.

Here’s a look at what those paths might be.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at his nightly caucus event, January 15, 2024 in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at his campaign night event, January 15, 2024, in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

How DeSantis thinks he can beat Trump

Despite his double-digit loss to Trump in Iowa, DeSantis came in second place behind the former president — which his campaign described as a sign of wooing voters.

“They threw everything at Ron DeSantis. They couldn’t kill him. Not only is he still standing, he’s now got his ticket out of Iowa,” a senior campaign official said in a statement to reporters. “This will be a long fight ahead of us, but this is what this campaign was built for. The stakes are too high for this nation and we will not back down,” he added.

But as DeSantis leaves Iowa, a state in which he invested so much time and resources and often bragged about his eventual victory, he next looks ahead to the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday and then the South Carolina primary on February 24.

DeSantis’ standing in the polls in New Hampshire has collapsed, According to 538So, while it’s typical for candidates to head there after Iowa, DeSantis is heading a little closer to South Carolina.

His campaign asserts that there is an opportunity in South Carolina, compared to New Hampshire, to pressure Haley in her home state, where DeSantis says she does not really attract Republican primary voters. DeSantis also received more endorsements from state lawmakers than she did.

DeSantis is currently trailing Haley in the polls in South Carolina, but not by as much as New Hampshire.

“We actually have a great organization in South Carolina that hasn’t gotten as much attention because there’s a lot of focus on Iowa,” DeSantis told reporters Tuesday afternoon at the state Capitol, adding: “Here we have a good footprint.” But I think you’ll see us having more of a presence, not only in terms of my presence in the state more, but also in terms of paid media, where we’ll be able to tell our story.”

If Haley performs poorly in South Carolina, the DeSantis campaign is thinking, she may have an incentive to leave the race more quickly so DeSantis can finally face Trump head-on and try to draw parallels with the former president as governor. An established hardline track record and none of Trump’s legal issues.

But that doesn’t mean DeSantis is giving up on New Hampshire. “It’s all about delegate accumulation,” he said Tuesday.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign town hall in Rye, New Hampshire, on January 2, 2024.

Republican presidential candidate and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign town hall in Rye, New Hampshire, on January 2, 2024.

Brian Snyder – Reuters

How does Haley think she can beat Trump?

After finishing third in the Iowa caucuses, just a few points behind DeSantis, Haley now turns her full attention to New Hampshire for next week, where she remains within striking distance of Trump, according to her polling average of 538.

The nation’s first primary in New Hampshire could serve as a defining moment for Haley in her quest to be the main alternative to Trump in the GOP.

Despite the Iowa results, Haley declared the GOP primary to be a “two-man race” on Monday night, a sentiment her campaign echoed in a race memo distributed to members of the press.

“The number of candidates is actually down to two, with only Trump and Nikki Haley receiving significant support in both New Hampshire and South Carolina,” campaign manager Betsy Ankeny said in a memo from campaign manager Betsy Ankeny.

In December, Haley received another boost in New Hampshire, securing a much-desired endorsement from New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a popular anti-Trump Republican, who has hit hard on her behalf and become one of her most vocal alternatives.

But Haley still trails Trump by more than 10 points in New Hampshire, and it remains to be seen whether her second-place finish in next week’s primary will be enough to boost her candidacy during next month’s South Carolina primary. Polls still show Trump dominating the electoral arena in her state, and unlike New Hampshire, Haley will not have the support of independent voters.

Haley has presented herself as a conservative who has proven her ability to appeal to voters who rejected Trump’s policies and Trump-style politics in recent elections.

“Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. That’s nothing to be proud of,” she said earlier this week.

New Hampshire’s importance to Haley revealed itself in part through campaign finance, with more than $26 million spent flooding the state with ads between her official campaign organization and allied super PACs.

Haley also hit the pavement hard, with 35 days on the ground recorded in the state and more than 50 events with voters, according to an ABC News analysis of events since February. She wasted no time traveling to the state after the Iowa caucuses, showing her face at the Red Arrow Diner, a classic New Hampshire political hangout, on Tuesday morning.

The surprise exit from the race of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who has made New Hampshire the cornerstone of his candidacy — could also provide a potential boost for Haley.

Christie campaigned extensively to win the votes of some of New Hampshire’s undeclared voters, a key bloc in the state that makes up nearly 40% of the electorate. These voters can also vote in the Republican primary.

And in a field that has been whittled down from more than a dozen candidates to just three after the exits of Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday, voters’ choices will also be increasingly combined among those remaining — something that could help or hurt. Haley.

“The undeclared voters in Hampshire are not moderate or liberal. There are a lot of conservatives, and Trump will get a lot of those voters, too,” Dave Carney, a veteran Republican activist in New Hampshire, told ABC News.

But Haley remained optimistic about her chances in the state, telling Fox News on Tuesday that she was “a stone’s throw away from Donald Trump” in New Hampshire.

As her aides have pointed out, she has reason for optimism as second only to Trump: In the past two months, Haley has passed DeSantis for second place in South Carolina, according to 538, with the Florida governor by about 13%. Ha.

As a former governor of South Carolina, Haley also has deeper and broader roots in the state than DeSantis.

“We expect it to be a two-person race in New Hampshire,” Haley told ABC News Sunday night before the Iowa caucuses. “Then we go to the beautiful state of South Carolina. So it’s one state at a time. The goal is to be strong in every state until we finish.”

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