MANCHESTER, N.H. — The GOP presidential race barreled into New Hampshire on Tuesday, with Donald Trump aiming to build on a landslide victory in Iowa, as his rivals and critics looked to regroup in a battleground seen as perhaps the final chance of slowing his march to the nomination.
The results in Iowa emboldened supporters of the former president, who plans to campaign in the Granite State later Tuesday. He defeated Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by some 30 points, easily breaking the previous record margin of victory. Vivek Ramaswamy, a first-time candidate who competed for Trump supporters, dropped out. And Nikki Haley, who hoped for a burst of momentum heading into New Hampshire, where she has been gaining ground on Trump, finished third.
Haley’s campaign and its allies spent more than $30 million on ads in Iowa, but she heads into New Hampshire still wrestling DeSantis to become the main Trump alternative. DeSantis, whose campaign had been fading, bought himself more time to compete, though his path forward is perhaps less clear than Haley’s.
Now, they are facing a candidate in Trump who is looking to secure another decisive win that supporters hope will all but end the nomination fight. Both underdogs tried to project optimism as the focus of the contest shifted east to the early state where the former president holds the narrowest advantage. DeSantis thanked his supporters for helping him “get a ticket punched out of the Hawkeye State.”
The Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary offers anti-Trump Republicans the best chance of stalling his momentum. Haley has polled best in New Hampshire, pulling to within single digits of Trump in one recent survey with a pitch rooted in her general election appeal against President Biden.
She has effectively narrowed the New Hampshire race to a one-on-one contest with Trump by building a coalition of GOP voters who are ready to move on from the former president, as well as independents who reject what they see as his extreme agenda and brash conduct.
Haley’s campaign, as well as the outside groups allied with her bid, has targeted unaffiliated voters, who make up 39 percent of the state’s electorate overall and could have an outsize influence because there is no real contest on the Democratic side. New Hampshire allows independent voters to participate in either party’s primary. (President Biden will not even appear on the New Hampshire ballot after the Democratic Party opted to launch its nominating season in South Carolina.)
DeSantis effectively ceded New Hampshire and its more moderate, secular terrain last year, as his aligned groups shifted their focus to Iowa amid turmoil and cost-cutting in his campaign. The Florida governor, who has sunk to single digits in some New Hampshire polls, flew to South Carolina for a brief stop to highlight Haley’s weakness in her home state and signal to donors that he is building an effort beyond the first two contests. He planned to return to New Hampshire later Tuesday for a meet-and-greet with seniors followed by a CNN town hall.
In the Granite State, a Trump-Haley showdown has been escalating. After allowing Haley to dominate the airwaves late last year, Trump and his aligned groups began matching her team’s spending in January and are portraying Haley, Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, as a “globalist” and a pawn of Democratic, Wall Street donors who are determined to deprive him of the GOP nomination.
“He can keep talking about it all he wants. It actually helps drive turnout more than anything,” said Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who supports Haley.
Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester, said Trump is vulnerable in part because the state includes more highly educated and fewer blue-collar voters than others.
“That said, Trump is like a goal post,” Levesque added, noting that his support remained steady in the mid-40s in polling throughout all of last year’s controversies. “He doesn’t go up, and he doesn’t go down. That’s because people know who he is — and they either love him or they don’t.”
Haley had little ground organization here before Americans for Prosperity Action, the flagship political group in the network led by conservative billionaire Charles Koch, endorsed her. The group has harnessed its data to reach voters through online ads, phone calls and door-knocking.
Alan Leo, 68, of Waterville Valley said he had never volunteered for a campaign before Haley’s and has darted across the state placing Haley signs in snowdrifts and knocking on doors. “I knew I had to get off my butt because I don’t want to see another Trump presidency,” he said. He dismissed Trump’s constant talk of retribution against critics if he returns to office. “I’m done with that,” Leo added. “I’m retired. You know what I want? I want to have a nice, sane life.”
Volunteers have largely built Trump’s ground game in New Hampshire. Many began organizing their counties, towns and wards early last year. Di Lothrop, Trump’s Nashua city captain, has made thousands of phone calls and knocked on hundreds of doors. She said she doesn’t believe the polls “because most of them are fake” and predicted that Trump’s support will be overwhelming, even in cities with a bluer tinge like her own.
Both sides agree the race could come down to what unaffiliated voters do.
The political leanings of independents in New Hampshire are complex and often misunderstood. While some lean Democratic and many are centrists or former Republicans who have been driven away by Trump’s brand of politics, they are often miscast as a group that is liberal-leaning.
In fact, many are libertarian with isolationist, conservative tendencies that align with Trump’s politics. Trump campaign officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy predict that a large swath of the undeclared voters — who can ask for the primary ballot of either party on Election Day — will swing his way rather than Haley’s.
Trump and his allies have highlighted Haley’s support from some Democrats to argue she is insufficiently conservative. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has called on liberal Democrats to back her, and moves by Democratic donors like Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn who gave $250,000 to a super PAC backing her, have also attracted attention.
The idea that Haley “is somehow attracting moderate, independent and disaffected Republican votes is significantly hurting her,” said GOP strategist Matthew Bartlett, who has advised New Hampshire candidates.
When a Haley-aligned canvasser knocked on her door in Manchester last week, Randi, a 77-year-old Republican voter who did not want to give her last name, said she at first had been interested in Haley. But recently, she said, she had read online and heard from friends that Haley is a “globalist” who favors “a world government” rather than a U.S. government, an incorrect claim.
But Robert Clark, a 76-year-old Republican from Manchester, ultimately settled on Haley after Sununu endorsed her because he “trusts” the four-term governor.
Trump, Clark said, “seems incompetent. His tenure was chaos.”
Marianne LeVine in Washington contributed to this report.