On Wednesday night, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley engaged in a debate just five days before the Iowa caucuses. A notable absence on the debate stage was former President Trump, who chose to participate in a Fox News-led town hall instead. Despite Trump's dominance in the GOP primary race, being up 58 points nationally against his closest competitor, Governor DeSantis, and with Haley following closely, the debate focused more on the clash between the two challengers than directly addressing Trump.
The widely observed "race for second place" has been coined by many pundits, implying that the eventual winner in the DeSantis-Haley rivalry will still trail far behind Trump in primary contests. This narrative is supported by numerous polls across states, except for a recent one from New Hampshire. CNN's latest poll in the Granite State showed Trump leading with 39%, while Haley closely followed at 32%. With the suspension of Chris Christie's campaign, a candidate relatively popular in New Hampshire, Haley's numbers are expected to rise.
Although Haley might not have a clear path to the nomination, there's a potential opportunity in New Hampshire. However, she faces a challenge in the prevalence of anti-Trump voters within the GOP. In a head-to-head race against Trump, she is likely to lose, irrespective of the state. The crucial factor preventing Trump from running away with the nomination is Ron DeSantis. Supporters of both Trump and DeSanti share similar ideological roots. According to ABC News, 48% of DeSantis supporters name Trump as their second choice, while only 20% prefer Haley. DeSantis draws enough potential Trump support to narrow the front-runner's lead, allowing Haley to stay within striking distance.
The strategic consideration for Haley lies in acknowledging DeSantis as a potential ally rather than a threat to her campaign. If DeSantis were to drop out and his supporters shifted to Trump, Haley's chances would diminish significantly in any state. Therefore, Haley's victory is not highly probable, but to keep her slim chances alive, she needs to view DeSantis strategically and potentially as an ally in the upcoming primaries.