On Wednesday, Nikki Haley will hold her first campaign event in Charleston, South Carolina, to challenge Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.
A covered outdoor venue in central Charleston known as “the Shed” was packed with hundreds of her supporters. It’s usually a site for weddings and live music, but on this day it was decked out in patriotic splendour, lined with red-white-and-blue bunting, an American flag over the stage and twin South Carolina palmetto and crescent moon state banners flanking a giant “Nikki Haley” sign.
Loudspeakers blared 70s soul and rock classics before the appearance of Ms Haley, born in 1972.
Hopefully, these supporters before her and Republicans across the country are looking for something different in a candidate.
The first thing to know about Nikki Haley is that she has never lost a race for office. It is a streak that will be tested in her bid to become the Republican presidential candidate in 2024. The opponents underestimate her at their peril, says Dave Wilson, president of the Palmetto Family Council, an evangelical Christian group based in South Carolina. He witnessed it firsthand during her first campaign 19 years ago.
There are few people who know how well Nikki Haley can do retail politics,” he said. “Nikki would hand out doughnuts at neighborhood entrances.” She’d put on a pair of jeans and boots and go to the biker bar and sit there and talk to them.” Retail politics will come in handy in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, two states that vote before South Carolina on the Republican nomination calendar.
Ms Haley has a well-rounded resume at this point in her career, which is another of her strengths. After a racially-motivated mass shooting at a black church in 2015, she gained national attention by successfully removing the Confederate Flag from Columbia’s state capitol.
It was a decision that played well with the state’s business leaders, who feared boycotts and negative publicity over the flag’s presence. “It was the right time,” Mr Wilson said. “She had the right personality to get those things done.” Nikki Haley worked hard to get businesses to come to South Carolina, and she fought against the good old boy system.”
It was a decision that played well with the state’s business leaders, who feared growing boycotts and negative publicity over the flag’s presence. In Mr Wilson’s opinion, “it was the right time. It was the right moment. “It was Nikki Haley’s strong personality that enabled her to make those things happen.” “She fought against the good old boy system and worked hard to get businesses to come to South Carolina.”
Mr Trump himself has largely held his fire, but his political action committee has called her an “a career politician whose only commitment is to herself”. In public opinion polls, Ms Haley faces a tough battle in winning over Republican voters. While Mr Trump and Florida Governor DeSantis have yet to announce a presidential bid, Ms Haley lags far behind.
Also, unlike many of her opponents, Ms Haley does not hold a current political office in which to build name recognition. She also doesn’t have much of a war chest to finance her campaign. What she does have is her resume, her political acumen, and a different kind of background. If she wants to be president in two years, that’s all she needs.