Haley secures former Tim Scott donors as her money momentum continues

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First comes the momentum, then comes the money.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s presidential bid started to pick up the first after well-received early debate performances. Now, she is starting to vacuum up the second, as an increasing number of GOP donors who oppose former President Donald Trump see her as the best alternative.

That interest has picked up in recent weeks, including among donors who previously backed South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott but have started to raise money for Haley in the wake of her home-state rival’s exit from the race. Scott’s exit set up a donor and supporter scramble in South Carolina, as she continues to jockey with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the title of the most viable candidate besides Trump, who still holds a huge lead in the polls despite their pressure.

“Tim Scott’s exit was a signal to donors that the time to coalesce around Nikki Haley is now,” said Alex Stroman, a South Carolina Republican operative who is currently unaligned. “Major donors don’t just write large checks out of the goodness of their hearts: They are discerning with their money. Making financial investments in Nikki Haley right now will help her win the nomination and easily win the presidency, and her coattails will be long for local, state and federal candidates.”

DeSantis has also touted bringing in more money after the latest GOP debate, and he tasked his finance team with courting former Scott donors, too. But the move by a small group of past Scott fundraisers to shift allegiances to Haley is already paying off for the former South Carolina governor.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images file)

Gov. Ron DeSantis (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images file)

Eric Levine, a former Scott donor and co-host for a New York fundraising event for Haley next month, said he anticipates being able to raise at least $100,000 on his own at the fundraiser. He called the response he’s getting “incredible” and said that the donors he’s hitting up for the December event are “more enthusiastic” than those that gave and attended the gatherings he helped organize for Scott.

“She has serious momentum and folks genuinely believe she can beat Trump and easily win the general against Biden,” Levine said in a text message.

The Haley event in New York has three other co-hosts with ties to GOP megadonor Paul Singer and one of his close advisers. Terry Kassel, the head of strategic human resources at Singer’s investment firm, Elliott Management, is listed on the invite as a co-host. Another co-host, former Meta executive and TV anchor Campbell Brown, is married to Elliott Management’s chief public affairs officer, Dan Senor. And Annie Dickerson, who is also listed as a co-host, has reportedly been a “close confidante” of Singer’s for years, according to Politico.

Levine said he has “hope” that their involvement with the event is a sign Singer might be planning to back Haley in the 2024 primary, though Singer has not publicly given any indication whom he plans to support — or if he will get involved with the primary at all.

Meanwhile, in Iowa, David Oman, a former chief of staff to two Republican governors and former co-chair of the state GOP, said that after watching the race develop, he and a network of about 70 friends and allies, many of them longtime Republican activists, decided it was time to get off the sidelines and throw their support to Haley before it became too late to affect the outcome.

The goal of the group, which was rolled out by the Haley campaign this week, is to help her organize on the ground in the short window before the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses — creating a complement for the cash that is rolling into her coffers.

“The financing of presidential campaigns, super PACs and all that, goes on above us and around us,” Oman said. “I believe this group can and will be helpful with Iowans, with caucusgoers.”

Haley’s snagging new donors and supporters as the GOP field shrinks speaks to her rising status — and rising needs. Haley has laid down $10 million worth of advertising plans in Iowa and New Hampshire going forward. And while DeSantis has been losing ground to Trump in public polls, he also built up a deep reserve of cash in his super PAC before he even announced his candidacy. His campaign had significantly outraised Haley’s through the most recent campaign finance reports.

“I think Haley and DeSantis are the only candidates left in the race with a chance to stop Trump from being the nominee,” said Chad Walldorf, the co-founder of Sticky Fingers restaurants and a previous Scott supporter. “While I think DeSantis has been a good governor in many respects, I don’t think that has translated onto the national stage where he has spent tens of millions of dollars only to see his support drop precipitously.”

Walldorf, who served on Haley’s gubernatorial transition team after her successful 2010 campaign, said he is hoping to host a fundraiser for Haley and is speaking with her finance team on Friday to see how he can be more helpful to her campaign. He says he is specifically impressed with her views on helping Ukraine and Israel.

Billionaire Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, who gave $10 million to back DeSantis’ runs for Florida governor, told Bloomberg TV earlier this week that he was “actively contemplating” financially backing Haley.

Another snapshot of Haley establishing herself as a rising Trump counterweight came Thursday in a new New Hampshire poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire.

The poll showed 42% of likely GOP primary voters supporting Trump, but Haley was far and away the second choice, getting 20%. For Haley it’s an 8-point increase since the last CNN/University of New Hampshire poll in September. Meanwhile, DeSantis dropped a point from that last poll, and is now in fourth at 9%, behind former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 14%.

DeSantis has spent relatively little time focused on New Hampshire, instead going all in on performing well in the Iowa caucuses, where a good showing could give him a shot of momentum heading into other states where he’s spent less time so far. DeSantis has been moving key staff to Iowa, spending most of his time there, and earlier this month scored the endorsement of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a big win the campaign is already featuring in TV ads.

“We need someone who puts this country first and not himself,” Reynolds says in an ad in rotation in Iowa. “Ron DeSantis is the person that we need leading this country. He is probably the most effective leader that I know. I am so proud to give him my full support and endorsement.”

Haley, who has announced dozens of her own Iowa endorsements from lower-profile officials, was tied with DeSantis at 16% in the October NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll. Trump continued to lead by huge margins, bringing in 43%. The same poll found that the exit of Scott, who got 7%, was unlikely to give a significant boost to any of the non-Trump candidates.

The early-state showdown between DeSantis and Haley, including the hustle for endorsements and cash, underscores an increasingly undeniable reality of the Republican presidential primary.

“There is no path forward for any of the other candidates still in the races,” Stroman, the South Carolina operative, said. “It’s either Ambassador Haley or Governor DeSantis versus Donald Trump.”

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