By Gram Slattery, James Oliphant and Nathan Layne
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) – Voters in New Hampshire will decide whether to hand Donald Trump a glide path to the Republican presidential nomination or bolster rival Nikki Haley‘s long-shot bid to topple him on Tuesday in a pivotal primary election.
The former U.S. president and the former South Carolina governor made their final pitches to voters in what became a two-person race after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, once seen as the party’s best bet to take on Trump, dropped out and endorsed the New York businessman.
Polls show Trump with a wide lead over Haley, who needs a victory or a strong second place showing in New Hampshire to carry her to the next nominating contest in South Carolina, her home state, where Trump is also dominant in the polls. The former president achieved a record-setting victory in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation contest last week.
A resounding win in New Hampshire would pave the way for him to secure the nomination and represent a remarkable show of force early in the nominating process, a sign that Republican voters wish to return him to the White House despite multiple criminal counts against him, two impeachments and a chaotic tenure as commander-in-chief. Trump, who is balancing campaign stops with appearances in various courts, denies wrongdoing.
The Republican nominee will face President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in the general election in November.
Biden is not on the ballot in New Hampshire, having supported an effort by national Democrats to move their first primary election to the more diverse state of South Carolina. But New Hampshire supporters will still be able to vote for him by writing Biden’s name on the ballot, which would be a barometer of his political strength.
In a bit of counter programming to the Republican race, Biden, whose advisers have been anticipating a rematch with Trump, is holding a rally in Virginia on Tuesday night with Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss the threat Republicans would pose to abortion rights if they win back the White House.
The rally comes after Virginia Democrats secured majorities in the state legislature after making abortion a central campaign issue. The Supreme Court, with a conservative majority made possible by three justices who joined the court under Trump, struck down in 2022 the Roe vs Wade ruling that guaranteed women’s right to abortion.
In New Hampshire, Haley is also courting women’s votes, while stepping up her criticism of Trump, for whom she once worked as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, by criticizing his affinity for strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Haley has also gone after Trump’s age and mental acuity, attacks she has regularly leveled at Biden.
Addressing the series of high-ranking officials in South Carolina who have endorsed Trump in recent days, Haley sought to cast herself as the anti-establishment candidate, citing her plans to cut government spending and implement congressional term limits.
“What I will say to Donald Trump is if you have the political elite, you can have them because that’s never who I wanted to work for. I always wanted to serve the people,” Haley told a campaign rally in Salem, New Hampshire, on Monday.
Biden, in addition to focusing on abortion, has cast Trump as a threat to democracy. The former president sought to turn that argument around in remarks at a rally on Monday night, saying his opponents were threats to democracy.
“Our enemies want to take away my freedom, because I will never let them take away your freedom,” he said at a rally in rural central New Hampshire, to loud applause.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery, James Oliphant and Nathan Layne; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Michael Perry)
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