U.S Election

Ron DeSantis is in survival mode as Nikki Haley battles Trump in New Hampshire

Author: Matt Dixon, Natasha Korecki and Jonathan Allen Source: NBC News
January 17, 2024 at 06:52
Ron DeSantis is in survival mode as Nikki Haley battles Trump in New Hampshire

Campaign insiders are pinning their hopes on next month's South Carolina primary.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Ron DeSantis doesn’t have to win next week’s New Hampshire primary. But he needs Nikki Haley to lose.

That’s the view inside the Florida governor’s inner circle on the heels of a distant second-place showing Monday in the Iowa caucuses that nonetheless allowed DeSantis to say he got his “ticket punched” to continue campaigning. His two-point margin over former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was thinner than his advisers had hoped for but far better than the death knell of the third-place finish they had feared.

“He’s staying in,” a DeSantis supporter familiar with the campaign’s thinking told NBC News. “If Nikki loses New Hampshire — which is her best chance out of all states to win — and loses her home state of South Carolina right after, she will need to get out and we get our two-man race.” 

DeSantis advisers told NBC News that the campaign is busy collecting data and plotting a post-Iowa path forward through at least the South Carolina primary in late February. Inside a DeSantis finance team meeting at the Surety Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, Tuesday morning, campaign manager James Uthmeier painted the picture of a difficult, but manageable, fundraising environment for the campaign, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

“Going to be tough sledding,” another DeSantis supporter familiar with the thinking said. “The sentiment is we have and can raise the resources to get through South Carolina.” 

So, in an upside-down political season, DeSantis must now root for former President Donald Trump — who trounced his rivals by taking 51% of the vote in Iowa — to win a second consecutive contest, this one in New Hampshire. No Republican has ever lost the party’s nomination after winning both states, and Trump’s train shows no signs of impending mechanical failure.

One Republican money-bundler supportive of DeSantis thinks the governor's campaign will be over once the votes are tallied in New Hampshire next Tuesday.

“It’s a poor showing. There’s nothing to crow about barely nudging out Nikki Haley and getting blown out by 30,” the bundler said of DeSantis’ 21% vote share in Iowa. As for the ticket DeSantis says he punched, the bundler said: “That’s an economy class ticket out. That’s coach, right near the bathroom.”

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