By Gram Slattery, Nathan Layne and James Oliphant
FRANKLIN, N.H. (Reuters) –Donald Trump‘s last remaining Republican opponent, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, was making a final push on Monday to convince New Hampshire voters to turn out and deliver her an upset victory in the state’s presidential nominating contest.
New Hampshire’s primary vote on Tuesday will split the state’s Republican voters into two camps: those with former president Trump, and those against him. The contest became a one-on-one race on Sunday, when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ended his struggling campaign and endorsed Trump.
Trump, who polls show leads Haley by double digits, is hoping to deliver a fatal blow to the former South Carolina governor’s campaign by notching another commanding win. He coasted to a record-setting victory in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation contest last week.
For Haley, New Hampshire represents perhaps her last chance to prove the Republican base could consider someone other than Trump, who commands the party’s faithful despite facing 91 felony counts. He has pleaded not guilty to every crime, claiming political persecution.
At the first of five planned campaign events in New Hampshire on Monday, Haley told a packed veterans’ hall in a working class town that Trump was hung up on vendettas and pre-occupied with court cases, keeping him from focusing on the future.
“When you go out on Tuesday, you’re gonna decide: do you want more of the same, or do you want something new?,” Haley, 52, asked voters in Franklin.
Trump, 77, is having just one event, a 9 p.m. ET rally in the central town of Laconia, where he will be joined by former Republican presidential candidates, including Senator Tim Scott and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who have since endorsed him.
The state’s large number of independent voters, who are permitted to cast ballots in Tuesday’s election, make New Hampshire friendlier turf for Haley than more conservative Iowa.
Even so, Trump holds a double-digit lead in most statewide public polls. A poll released by Monmouth University on Monday, but conducted before DeSantis dropped out, showed 52% of voters would choose Trump, 34% would choose Haley and 8% would choose DeSantis. DeSantis supporters were twice as likely to name Trump than Haley as their second choice, according to the poll.
‘HALEY HAS A SHOT’
Tuesday’s result could hinge on voter turnout and the ratio of Republicans to independents, known in the state as “undeclareds,” said Jim Merrill, a Republican strategist in New Hampshire.
“Nikki Haley has a shot here tomorrow and that shot is having enough Republican voters (stay home), then a large undeclared turnout,” Merrill told a media roundtable.
Merrill said for Haley to prevail turnout would likely need to be close to 340,000 voters. That’s higher than the projection for a record-setting 322,000 voters disclosed by the New Hampshire secretary of state’s office last week.
The current record for a New Hampshire Republican presidential primary is 287,653 voters in 2016.
A Haley victory could give her the momentum and fundraising she needs ahead of the next major nominating contest on Feb. 24 in South Carolina, her home state where she served two terms as governor.
The winner of this year’s Republican nominating contests will take on President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in November’s general election.
The national Democratic Party made South Carolina its first official primary, so Biden is not on the ballot on Tuesday. Still, support for Biden’s write-in campaign in New Hampshire will be closely-watched amid weak polls for the 81-year-old president.
On Monday, after a robocall using fake audio of Biden urging Democrats to stay home began circulating in New Hampshire, the White House denied the president had made any such recording and said it highlights the risks of “deep fakes” and misinformation.
TRUMP TRIAL POSTPONED
Trump had been expected to spend the morning potentially testifying in a New York courtroom in a defamation case brought against him by author E. Jean Carroll, who says he raped her decades ago. Trump accuses Carroll of making up the story to boost her memoir.
But the trial was postponed to Tuesday after a juror reported feeling ill and a parent of Trump’s lead lawyer tested positive for COVID-19. The judge in the trial said he will decide later whether to let Trump testify on Wednesday, so he can be in New Hampshire for Tuesday’s vote.
As with his criminal cases, which he has frequently used in fundraising pleas, Trump has portrayed the Carroll case as part of a broader conspiracy by liberal forces to derail his candidacy.
In recent days, Haley has intensified her attacks on Trump, asserting he has suffered some cognitive decline since his time in the White House and criticizing him for embracing authoritarian foreign leaders.
At a rally on Sunday in Rochester, New Hampshire, Trump accused Haley of relying on an “unholy alliance” of liberals, “never-Trumpers” who oppose him and RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only. He has used a version of her given first name, Nimarata, as an insult and amplified false posts on social media questioning her birthright U.S. citizenship.
Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants and was born in South Carolina.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Rochester, New Hampshire, Gram Slattery in Franklin, New Hampshire and James Oliphant in Manchester, New Hampshire; Writing by Joseph Ax and Rami Ayyub; editing by Miral Fahmy, Alistair Bell and Deepa Babington)