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Election 2024 Haley

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event in Spartanburg, S.C. on Monday, Feb. 5. Matt Kelley/Associated Press file

CONWAY, S.C. 鈥 With two weeks to go before the South Carolina Republican primary, Nikki Haley is trying to challenge Donald Trump on her home turf while the former president tries to quash his last major rival鈥檚 narrow path to the nomination.

Trump, turning his campaign focus to the southern state days after an easy victory in Nevada, revved up a huge crowd of supporters at a Saturday afternoon rally in Conway, near Myrtle Beach, by touting his time in office, repeating his false claims that the 2020 election he lost was rigged, maligning a news media he sees as biased against him and lobbing attacks on Haley and President Joe Biden.

In his rally speech, Trump insulted Haley by using his derisive nickname for her, 鈥淏irdbrain,鈥 and lavished praise on South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who endorsed him early. Trump claimed that he selected Haley to serve as his ambassador to the United Nations in 2017 and represent America on the world stage only because he was motivated to make McMaster 鈥 her second-in-command 鈥 the governor of South Carolina.

鈥淪he did a job. She was fine. She was OK. But I didn鈥檛 put her there because I wanted her there at the United Nations,鈥 he said. 鈥淚 wanted to take your lieutenant governor, who is right here, and make him governor.鈥

鈥淚 wanted him because I felt he deserved it,鈥 Trump added.

Trump, who has long been the front-runner in the GOP presidential race, won three contests in a row and is looking to use South Carolina鈥檚 Feb. 24 primary to close out Haley鈥檚 chances and turn his focus fully on an expected rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden in the general election.

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Haley skipped the Nevada caucuses, condemning the contest as rigged for Trump, and has instead focused on South Carolina, kicking off a two-week bus tour across the state where she served as governor from 2011 to 2017.

Speaking to about a couple hundred people gathered outside a historic opera house in Newberry, Haley on Saturday portrayed Trump as an erratic and self-absorbed figure not focused on the American people.

She pointed to the way he flexed his influence over the Republican Party this past week, successfully pressuring GOP lawmakers in Washington to reject a bipartisan border security deal and publicly pressed Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel to consider leaving her job.

鈥淲hat is happening?鈥 Haley said. 鈥淥n that day of all those losses, he had his fingerprints all over it,鈥 she added.

Haley reprised her questions of Trump鈥檚 mental fitness, an attack she has sharpened since a Jan. 19 speech in which he repeatedly confused her with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Haley, 52, has called throughout her campaign for mental competency tests for politicians, a way to contrast with 77-year-old Trump and 81-year-old Biden.

鈥淲hy do we have to have someone in their 80s run for office?鈥 she asked. 鈥淲hy can鈥檛 they let go of their power?鈥

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A person in the crowd shouted out: 鈥淏ecause they鈥檙e grumpy old men!鈥

鈥淭hey are grumpy old men,鈥 Haley said.

Haley continued the argument when speaking to reporters afterward, citing a report released Thursday by the special counsel investigating Biden鈥檚 possession of classified documents. The report described Biden鈥檚 memory as 鈥減oor.鈥

鈥淎mericans can do better than two 80-year-olds for president,鈥 Haley said.

Harlie O鈥機onnell, a longtime South Carolina resident who backs Haley, said she is excited to vote in the presidential primary for a woman from her home state.

While O鈥機onnell plans to support the eventual GOP nominee, she said she would prefer someone younger.

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鈥淚t鈥檚 just time for some fresh blood,鈥 O鈥機onnell said.

Her husband, Mike O鈥機onnell, credited Haley for courting major manufacturers such as Volvo and Samsung to the state while she was governor, bringing jobs and investment. He drew a contrast between the candidates鈥 approach to foreign policy and said he wants the U.S. to continue assisting Ukraine in its war with Russia, as Haley has pledged.

鈥淲e need to encourage friendships and not discourage them,鈥 he said of international relations.

Election 2024 Haley

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event in Newberry, S.C. on Saturday. Matt Kelley/Associated Press

Bob Pollard, a retired firefighter, said Haley showed 鈥渓evel-headedness鈥 that Trump lacks in the way she responded to the 2015 shooting at a Charleston church in which a white supremacist killed nine Black members of the congregation.

Pollard said he cannot support Trump because 鈥渉e鈥檚 a maniac,鈥 adding that Trump鈥檚 campaign, in which he speaks frequently of 鈥渞etribution鈥 and his personal grievances, has 鈥渢urned into a personal vendetta.鈥

In Conway, people began lining up to see Trump hours before the doors opened to the arena where he was set to take the stage later.

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Organizers expecting a capacity crowd set up screens outside where an overflow crowd would be able to watch Trump鈥檚 appearance.

The city sits along the Grand Strand, a broad expanse of South Carolina鈥檚 northern coast that is home to Myrtle Beach and Horry County, one of the most reliably conservative spots in the state and a central area of Trump鈥檚 base of support in the state in his past campaigns.

Tim Carter, from nearby Murrells Inlet, said he had backed Trump since 2016 and would do so again this year.

鈥淲e鈥檙e here to stand for Trump, get our economy better, shut our border down, more jobs for our people,鈥 said Carter, a pastor and military veteran who runs an addiction recovery ministry.

Cheryl Savage from Conway, who was waiting on the bleachers to hear from Trump, said the former president is 鈥渉ere to help us.鈥 Savage said she backed Haley during her first run for governor in 2010 but now feels she is hurting herself by staying in the race.

鈥淗e deserves a second term,鈥 Savage said, of Trump. 鈥淗e did a fantastic job for four years.鈥


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