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Ron DeSantis is facing the prospect of finishing third in the crucial New Hampshire Republican primary amid rising pressure to abandon his presidential campaign, with Donald Trump holding a clear lead over Nikki Haley ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Trump holds 50 per cent support among the Granite State’s likely Republican primary voters, while the former UN ambassador Haley stands at 39 per cent, according to a CNN poll. DeSantis trails with just 6 per cent.
In the final days before the primary, Haley, 52, is trying to close the gap by driving home the message that she represents the next generation, while the 77-year-old Trump — and 81-year-old President Joe Biden — are past their prime.
“You can either pick more of the same or you can go forward with the new generational leader,” said Haley on CBS’s Face the Nation.
At a campaign rally on Friday, Trump repeatedly referred to Haley — rather than Nancy Pelosi — in discussing who was in charge of security at the Capitol on January 6 2021.
“I don’t know what happened, but it should be enough to send us a warning sign,” said Haley on CBS. “If you have someone that’s 80 in office, their mental stability is going to continue to decline. That’s just human nature.”
The Granite State is a better prospect for Haley than Iowa, where she placed third last week. About 40 per cent of New Hampshire voters are registered as independents and are allowed to vote in the GOP primary.
Haley has earned the endorsement of the popular New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper. She has toured the state and spent more money on advertising there than her competitors.
But Trump has won more than two-thirds of registered New Hampshire Republicans, while Haley has captured about 60 per cent of independents, according to the CNN poll.
Meanwhile, support for DeSantis, who launched his presidential campaign last year as the pre-eminent GOP threat to Trump, is showing signs of collapse. DeSantis cancelled interviews with CNN and NBC and his staff has not posted any events on his campaign website after Sunday.
Since the Iowa caucuses on January 15, pro-DeSantis groups have spent less than $100,000 on advertisements, according to AdImpact data. Pro-Haley groups, meanwhile, have spent more than $7.8mn.
If Haley loses in New Hampshire, the GOP primary race could essentially come down to South Carolina’s election on February 24. In a sign of Trump’s enduring strength in the party he remade, South Carolina’s governor Henry McMaster and both its senators — Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott — have endorsed the former president over Haley, a former governor of the state.
In 2012, Haley appointed Scott to the Senate. But on Sunday, Scott said on CNN’s State of the Union that he supported Trump — and left the door open to being picked as his vice-presidential nominee.
Scott said on Sunday that Biden had allowed “lawless behaviour” in America, while Trump could restore “law and order”.
“When you look at the challenges that he faced, there’s no doubt that he has been aggrieved,” said Scott. “The question is, what are the American voters looking for? . . . They are looking for a president who represents their best future . . . that president is not Joe Biden. It is Donald Trump.”
At a New Hampshire rally this weekend, Trump, who is facing four criminal cases and one civil case that threatens his business empire, said that presidents should be granted “full and total immunity” and praised Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a “great man.”
“It’s nice to have a strong man running your country,” said Trump.