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  • Sam Meyer

The Primary Season's Start

In the past month, the first primary election and caucus were held in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively, for political parties to decide their nominee for the upcoming presidential election. While these initial electoral processes might not have the most potential for upsets this year, they often reveal the flaws in campaigns and rule out candidates with poor showings. 

For the Democratic Party with incumbent President Joe Biden at the helm, there is little competition with only Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips standing in the president’s way. He is telling voters that Biden is too old to be an effective leader, which most people, regardless of party, agree with. Still, the president is dominating the polls and comfortably won the first primary.

The nation watched the New Hampshire primaries and the Iowa caucus closely, giving these all-too-often overlooked states considerable attention. The reason the states are first is relatively random, but over the last 50 years it has become something of a tradition.

Now, turning to the Republican Party, this election cycle has become especially interesting for a multitude of reasons, many of which having to do with former President Donald Trump’s campaign. Despite a cult-like following, he has faced nagging competition from former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, his last competitor for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. He also faces 91 criminal charges and a looming Supreme Court case that will decide his eligibility for this election (the question centers on whether former President Trump committed what a post-Civil War amendment calls an “insurrection” against the U.S. government for his role in the January 6th riot at the Capitol). 

In just about every state, Mr. Trump is seen to be the landslide favorite: even in South Carolina, Haley’s home state, he holds a 30 percentage point advantage in early polls. He won 98 out of the 99 counties in the Iowa caucuses and 51% of the votes, over 30% more than his nearest competitor, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who dropped out of the race before the recent New Hampshire primary. 

New Hampshire, however, is no stranger to upset victories – which explains why Haley hoped to capitalize there and carry over the momentum to her home state, which holds primaries on February 24. A primarily rural state that allows independents to vote in either Party’s primary, New Hampshire has seen candidates succeed when they campaign at ground level, talking to the people and showing humanity and vulnerability. Indeed, in the 2000 New Hampshire primaries, Senator John McCain staged an upset win over the eventual president, George W. Bush. 

Ms. Haley, though, could not muster the required numbers. Instead, she stuck to a “tightly controlled campaign that limited her exposure, [she] played it safe and never gave voters a reason to throw her a life vest,” as Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times put it. She was also criticized for struggling to give a consistent and clear argument for why to vote for her and proved unable to persuade enough independents as much as successful underdog candidates have in the past.

As the Times saw the struggle: “Ms. Haley tried out electability — she, not Mr. Trump, would beat Mr. Biden. She tried to praise Mr. Trump while saying it was time for a new generation of leadership. Finally, she tried to convince voters that he was an aged agent of chaos, mentally unfit for another term.”

In the end, she lost the vote there by over 10 percentage points to Trump, but it was still a stronger showing than many expected. Thus, she vowed to stay in the election, telling voters that "this race is far from over." Her campaign has amassed over $1 million in funding since delivering that message.

While it seems that the Nikki Haley campaign’s days may not last much longer, if she can learn from her mistakes, pull off an upset win in South Carolina and have a good showing in Nevada, the next state to hold primaries, she will have solid ground to stay in the race. Otherwise, Republican strategists think that she may hang around until Super Tuesday, a day when many states hold their primary elections, and then drop out in the face of overwhelming odds against her. 

Another reason she could be staying in stems from the off chance Trump is actually convicted of inciting an insurrection, prohibiting him from running for president under the 14th Amendment. This would throw the Republican nomination wide open, and then primary elections may have to be held again to ensure a fair, democratic process. Extra campaign time would help Haley in this unlikely case. 

Still, Haley plans to put her best foot forward and fight the uphill battle against Trump. As she said in a fired-up speech after her New Hampshire loss, “I’m a fighter and I’m scrappy,” so don’t expect her to give up too easily.


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