Nikki Haley has clearly taken second place in the 2024 GOP race, but remains a distant threat to Donald Trump in South Carolina, according to a new poll of the early primary state conducted by CNN/SRSS.
Ms Haley previously served as the state’s governor, and made a name for herself there as an early adopter of the conservative culture war agenda while also winning support from some Democrats for her response to a massacre at a historic Black church. As a presidential candidate, she has battled Ron DeSantis for the runner-up slot for months, and appears to have some momentum behind her campaign while the Florida governor slips in some polling.
At the same time, however, Donald Trump has seen his support grow, not shrink, while he remains the clear frontrunner for the nomination. That reality was also reflected in the CNN poll, which showed Mr Trump leading Ms Haley by a margin of 53-22. Mr DeSantis registered support from 11 per cent of respondents in the state.
It’s a poll result that will have Ms Haley and her donors encouraged heading into the third GOP debate, while at the same time cognisant of the reality of the contest: This is Donald Trump’s race to lose.
Mr Trump is giving his opponents no free opportunities to overtake him. He is not scheduled to attend the third Republican primary debate, set to be hosted by NBC News next week, as he continues to avoid the prospect of a direct face-off between himself and Ms Haley, Mr DeSantis or ex-New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, who has been publicly itching for a confrontation with his former ally. The tactic is a direct reversal of his 2016 strategy, when Mr Trump relied on his bullish and insult-slinging GOP primary debate performances to vault his campaign into the lead.
The worst news in the poll was for Mr Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy, a businessman political newcomer. As many as six in ten GOP voters in South Carolina told pollsters they would not support either candidate under any circumstances. Eighty-two per cent of Mr Trump’s current supporters, by contrast, said that they were certain in their choice of candidate and would not change their minds unless the former president dropped out.
South Carolina’s primary is set to take place on 24 February.
The CNN poll surveyed 738 South Carolina voters who said that they were likely to participate in the 2024 GOP primary. The margin of error was 4.8 percentage points for the poll’s GOP sample, which was a subsample of the overall survey population.