WASHINGTON − Nikki Haley used an Iowa town hall Thursday to outline her plans to topple former president and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump − and to try and deal with some of the obstacles in her way.
"We've got momentum," the former South Carolina governor said during the CNN event in Des Moines, predicting strong showings in Iowa, New Hampshire, and her home state of South Carolina.
It's no easy task, given Trump's leads in most polls, although Haley is moving up in some surveys in New Hampshire.
The former United Nations ambassador also faced questions about recent controversy prompted by her comments − and lack there of − about the legacy of slavery and the importance of Iowa voters, as well as attacks from Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Among the town hall takeaways:
Haley has a plan - so do others
In setting up the race, Haley said that a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15 will lead to wins in New Hampshire (Jan. 23) and her home state of South Carolina (Feb. 24).
Republican rivals have similar ideas.
DeSantis, who headlined a CNN town hall right before the Haley event, says he will do better than expected in Iowa, propelling him into future contests.
Trump, meanwhile, is arguing that a big win in Iowa should end the contest then and there − but that likely won't happen.
Cleaning up flubs
Put on the defensive, Haley again said she made a mistake when she omitted slavery as a cause for the U.S. Civil War of the 1860s.
Haley said "I was thinking past slavery" and focused on how to move forward in dealing with racism. She again discussed her removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse following the 2015 mass shooting of Black churchgoers in Charleston.
“If you grow up in South Carolina, literally in second and third grade you learn about slavery," Haley said. "You grow up and you have - you know - I had Black friends growing up. It is a very talked-about thing."
Dealing with another flap, Haley said she was joking when she advised New Hampshire voters that they could "correct" Iowa if it picks another candidate in the caucuses.
"We banter against each other on different things," Haley told Iowa voters, insisting that she loves the Hawkeye State. "New Hampshire makes fun of Iowa. Iowa makes fun of South Carolina. It's what we do."
"I'm fighting for every state," she added.
Reminded that DeSantis described her "correct" comment as disrespectful to Iowa, Haley said: "Of course, he did."
Stepping up criticisms of Trump
Haley, who was loathe to attack Trump in the early part of the campaign, is stepping up her critique of the ex-president as actual voting nears.
During the CNN town hall, Haley said Trump was a good president for his time, but is now trailed by "chaos" and criminal indictments that would make him a bad general election candidate against President Joe Biden.
"No more drama," Haley said. "No more taking things personally."
After a critical question from a voter, Haley defended her pledge to pardon Trump, should that become necessary. "We have to move on past that," Haley said.
Throughout the town hall, Trump allies took after Haley on social media, on issues ranging from border security to China policy.
"Nikki will say anything to anyone and take any position at anytime, as long as she thinks it will help her political career," said Trump senior adviser Jason Miller on X, formerly Twitter.
No to gun control
At the start of the event, Haley expressed sympathy for the victims of the school shooting earlier in the day in Perry, Iowa.
Seeking the nomination of a party that believes in gun rights, Haley also said the solution is to address mental health, not more gun control.
"We have got to deal with the cancer that is mental health," Haley said.
The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, denounced Haley as a Trump-like candidate who "dodged answering for her anti-choice agenda and her support for election deniers." A DNC statement also said she "found new ways to prove her MAGA bona fides by callously siding with the gun lobby over the safety of America’s children."
'The right woman'
Haley expressed confidence that being a woman is not an impediment to her campaign.
The nation is ready to elect a female president, she said, but it has to be "the right" woman.
"So is America ready for a female president?" Haley said. "You bet they're ready for a female president, and I'm going to be the one that makes them proud."