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Haley looks to beat expectations against Trump in Virginia

In World
March 03, 2024

Nikki Haley is making a last-ditch effort in the Virginia GOP primary, where she hopes she can take a sizable number of delegates or even win a state where demographics suggest her message could resonate.

Haley will need strong results in Northern Virginia, where suburban voters outside Washington, D.C., could offset former President Trump’s strength in the south of the state.

But her campaign has signaled it is hopeful it can have a strong night in Virginia, even as questions rise about whether Haley will continue to challenge Trump beyond Super Tuesday.

“Politically speaking and demographically speaking, it’s a favorable state for her,” said Tucker Martin, a Virginia-based Republican strategist. “It’s a highly educated population. There’s a lot of traditional Republicans here.”

However, with Trump dominating the Republican Party inside and outside of Virginia, Haley is facing the same dilemma she is facing elsewhere.

A Roanoke College poll released Friday showed Haley trouncing President Biden, 49 percent to 40 percent, in a hypothetical general election match-up. However, the same poll showed Trump with a massive lead over Haley among Republicans in the state; 75 percent of self-reported Republicans said they backed Trump, while 15 percent said the same about Haley. The Hill’s Decision Desk HQ polling average shows Trump holding a similarly commanding lead over Haley in Virginia, 78 percent to 19 percent.

“It’s a state that, if she were the nominee in the general election, I think she would win Virginia,” Martin said. “The problem is we’re talking about a Tuesday in March and not a Tuesday in November, and that’s going to come down to the electorate that shows up.”

“It’s that never-ending Republican irony of this era,” Martin said.

Despite trailing Trump in the polls, Haley’s campaign is still touting what it says is momentum going into Super Tuesday. On Friday, her campaign announced it raised $12 million in the month of February.

Which electorate will turn out is a big question going into Virginia on Tuesday. The commonwealth has an open primary, meaning Democrats and independents could theoretically participate in the GOP primary. However, Democrats will also be holding their own presidential primary in Virginia on Tuesday, which Biden is expected to sweep.

And while there is an educated, suburban electorate in Northern Virginia and the greater Richmond area, Trump’s base west of Charlottesville has also proven to be a vital force in the state. Strategists point to Trump’s base in rural areas that propelled Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to victory in 2021.

“That’s kind of a mythology that [Youngkin] did well in the suburbs,” said Bob Holsworth, a veteran Virginia political analyst. “He won Trump country.”

There are still questions about how many voters will be motivated enough to come out to the polls on a Tuesday in March, as a Trump-Biden matchup appears increasingly inevitable.

“I think in low-turnout elections, intensity matters a lot,” Martin said. “One thing we know about Trump voters is that they are highly motivated. They strongly support the former president, and I would anticipate they will be voting.”

Trump will travel to Richmond on Saturday for a get-out-the-vote rally ahead of Tuesday’s election. Meanwhile, Haley hit the campaign trail in the state Thursday, with stops in Richmond and the D.C., suburb of Falls Church.

As she campaigned outside of the nation’s capital, Haley addressed reproductive rights issues that have dogged Republicans across the country, particularly in Virginia.

“I know in Virginia you’ve had a lot of conversations about abortion,” Haley told the crowd in Falls Church. “No more demonizing this issue — we have to humanize it.”

Haley also addressed the ongoing national conversation surrounding in vitro fertilization (IVF), talking about her own experience with fertility treatments. Last week, Haley faced backlash for saying embryos are children following the Alabama Supreme Court ruling on the matter, later clarifying her remarks.

At the same event in Falls Church, Haley supporters piled into a ballroom at the Westin Hotel to hear the presidential candidate deliver her stump speech. According to her campaign, more than 1,000 people were in attendance.

“She’s a viable alternative if some reason or another — I pray each night — Trump is either in the slammer or whatever,” said Ed Linz, a Haley supporter from Northern Virginia who attended Thursday’s rally. “If she proves she can generate enthusiasm, then I think the party will say, ‘Well, we’ve got a good alternative.’”

Barbara Knight, another Northern Virginia Haley supporter at the rally, echoed that point.

“If she wants to stick around after Super Tuesday, I’m good with that,” Knight said. “I’m telling you, something could happen, and we need someone waiting in the wings ready to go.”

But when asked whether Haley could win their home state Tuesday, her Virginia supporters said they were not betting on it.

“God, I wish,” Knight said. “I just hope she gets a good showing, that’s all. It could be 20 or 30 percent and I would be happy.”

Michael Govan, another Haley supporter present Thursday, was not as certain.

“I don’t know. I really don’t,” Govan said. However, he said that Haley’s logic for staying in the race was not necessarily to be on standby in the scenario Trump was unable to run.

“Her heart is in the right place,” he said. “She wants to make this country better, and there’s a lot of bad things happening here domestically and internationally, and she thinks she can make a difference.”

“And I believe it too,” he added.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.

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