Nikki Haley in Iowa Caucuses takes 3rd place; says it's '2-person race'


Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley took third place in the Iowa Caucuses, ending the long, heated battle between her and rival Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Haley garnered 19% of the votes and failed to clinch the second-place seat against DeSantis’ 21%. Former President Donald Trump won with a distant 51%.

While the caucuses may be over, Haley told her supporters Monday night that her fight for the White House isn’t. Iowa has made the Republican presidential contest a “two-person race,” she said, alluding to her strong poll standings in New Hampshire, where DeSantis trails far behind her and Trump. 

“Tonight I will be back in the great state of New Hampshire,” Haley said, standing at the podium at the West Des Moines Marriott, a row of American flags draped behind her. “And the question before Americans is now very clear: Do you want more of the same, or do you want a new generation?”

More: Donald Trump cruises to early Iowa Caucuses victory despite spurning Iowa leaders

Haley, whose remarks at the watch party were met with cheers, whistles and applause, reiterated a message she has often told Iowans on the campaign trail: A majority of Americans do not want to see a potential election rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden.

“Trump and Biden are both about 80 years old. Trump and Biden put our country trillions of dollars deeper in debt, and our kids will never forgive them,” she said, the crowd clapping in agreement. “Both lack a vision for our country’s future because both are consumed by the past — by investigations, by vendettas, by grievances. Americans deserve better.”

Haley said Americans deserve a focused president who cares about their needs, wants to rebuild the economy, close the border and stand up to the nation’s enemies. They deserve a leader who “will stop our self-loathing and division and fear and make America strong and proud.”

“Our campaign is the last best hope of stopping the Trump-Biden nightmare,” she said.

Haley headed into Caucus Day hoping the results at the end of the night would show the 2024 presidential race was a two-person contest between her and Donald Trump. As caucusing started Monday night, Haley made appearances at caucus sites in the Des Moines metro. Donald Trump Jr. also was at one location stumping for his father and the former president had just left the other when Haley showed up.

Haley was the first major candidate to jump into the presidential race when she announced her campaign in February. The former South Carolina governor positioned herself as one of the top challengers to the former president, buoyed by her strong debate performances and foreign policy experience.

Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll results showed Haley at 6% in August before rising to 16% in October and December. She reached 20% in January — second place behind Trump — just days before the caucuses.

She followed a slow, steady cadence of Iowa visits, holding 85 public events in the state throughout the campaign cycle. She largely stuck to town halls where she would speak about spending, immigration, foreign policy and veteran homelessness before taking questions from Iowans.

Haley brought a polished and well-rehearsed style to the Iowa campaign trail. She rarely deviated from her planned stump speeches, walking onstage to the same guitar beat in “Eye of the Tiger” before urging her crowds to elect “a new generational leader.” She closed her events with Sheryl Crow’s “Woman in the White House,” an emblematic reminder as she became the first prominent woman of color and the first Asian American woman to seek the Republican nomination.

For most of the campaign, she rarely called out her rivals at her events. But she has stepped up her criticism of Trump and DeSantis in the race’s final weeks.

2024 Iowa Caucuses: Results by precinct

“I believe President Trump was the right president at the right time. I agree with a lot of his policies, but rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him,” she said in Waukee earlier this month. “You know I’m right. Chaos follows him. And we have a country in disarray and a world on fire, and we go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive it. You don’t defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.”

With voters, Haley has described herself as a “scrappy” leader — someone who is fierce and willing to stand up and fight for the American people. She often talks about running for governor of South Carolina after she was told to “put away” a bill she filed requiring legislators’ votes be recorded whenever issues are debated on the floor of the House or Senate.

That bill, Haley has said, was among the first she signed into law after becoming governor. On the day of the bill signing, Haley says she marked the moment by blasting Pat Benatar’s song “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” in the statehouse.

The 51-year-old is a daughter of Indian immigrants, a military wife, a mother of two adult children and a Clemson University graduate (“Go Tigers!” she tells Iowans on the campaign trail). She grew up in Bamberg, South Carolina, a town of a few thousand people where, she says, “you couldn’t think about doing something wrong without somebody telling your mom.”

“No one’s going to outwork me in this race. No one’s going to outsmart me in this race. We have a country to save, and I’m determined,” Haley told reporters in August after speaking at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox.

Nikki Haley leaned into differences with Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis on foreign policy and abortion

Haley has staked out strong policy differences from Trump and DeSantis, notably on foreign policy and abortion.

She has leaned on her background as a former United Nations ambassador, walking audiences through lessons in geopolitical strategy involving Russia, China and Iran. She has often talked about how the United States must provide military equipment and ammunition to Ukraine and Israel, in addition to securing the U.S. southern border.

All three, she says, are necessary to protect national security.

“This is about preventing war,” she said in Ankeny this month. “It’s always been about preventing war.”

Haley also has taken a less combative stance on abortion than several of the other candidates in the race, often telling crowds that “the fellas” don’t know how to talk about the issue.

Haley has said her rivals should “be honest” with Americans about the difficulty of winning over a majority of the House and 60 votes in the Senate to pass a federal law banning abortion.

“Everybody has a story. Let’s be respectful of their story,” she told a crowd in Atlantic in December. “You will not hear me demonize this issue anymore, and frankly the fellas just don’t know how to talk about it. We have to humanize this and treat it with the respect that it deserves.”

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

F. Amanda Tugade covers social justice issues for the Des Moines Register. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @writefelissa.

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