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Nikki Haley says she's staying in the race 'until the last person votes'

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It's four days until polls close on Saturday in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah. While former President Donald Trump appears headed to another victory, the state's former governor, Nikki Haley, remains defiant.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: I feel no need to kiss the ring. I have no fear of Trump's retribution. I'm not looking for anything from him.

MARTÍNEZ: Gavin Jackson with South Carolina Public Radio has been on the trail with Nikki Haley. He was in Greenville yesterday when she gave what her campaign called a State of the Race speech. Gavin, so what message was Nikki Haley trying to put out there?

GAVIN JACKSON, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, she doubled down on staying in this race, like we heard, even with these high odds against her. And she is staying in until, quote, "the last person votes." Her campaign knew that if they announced a big speech like this, pundits and others would assume she was going to drop out. She didn't. She did instead get a big piece of the news cycle. For example, Fox News carried that entire speech live.

So the message that she's not dropping out is the same as it's been since she lost to Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire and, if polls are any indication, will face another loss, this time in her home state. But she's fighting this to the political death because she can. She's got plenty of money on hand, according to new FEC filings, and her campaign said it raised $1.6 million in Texas last week alone during a fundraising and campaign swing in that Super Tuesday state. So as much as she says she's not gearing up for a future run should Trump lose to President Biden, as she predicts - which in that case, she can always begrudgingly say, I told you so - in the future, but not right now.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And one of the things we've heard from Nikki Haley, though - she has not held back on attacking Donald Trump. But is the method behind the messaging evolving?

JACKSON: Yeah, somewhat. She is sharpening that attack. You know, when people call for her to drop out, she used to say, we don't do coronations in this country. And on Tuesday, that line shifted to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HALEY: People have a right to have their voices heard, and they deserve a real choice, not a Soviet-style election where there's only one candidate and he gets 99% of the vote.

JACKSON: So speaking of Russia, she continues to needle Trump on his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and call for him to speak out against the death of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whom she's called a hero. Again, drawing contrasts between her and Trump - where he's silent, she's outspoken on so many international fronts. Over the course of this entire campaign cycle, she's been able to flex that international experience from her time at the U.N. - which, you know, she was at the United Nations under Trump - to react clearly in real time to major world events, such as wars, invasions and now the death of Navalny.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the perception has been that she's holding on by her fingertips and that South Carolina is so pro-Trump that it's going to make Nikki Haley look bad. So what's the reality?

JACKSON: Yeah, that is very much the reality. But she's still drawing a lot of crowds, whether it's, you know, 50 or so folks in her hometown to hundreds and even thousands in bigger cities on her bus tour, which has been hitting all parts of the state over these past few days. So she's still seeing enough life here, and she's able to reach and attract a broad spectrum of voters who she says are key to the future of the Republican Party.

MARTÍNEZ: But how does she justify that she should stay in the race past this weekend?

JACKSON: Yeah, that's the thing. She's still got plenty of money, like I mentioned. The FEC filings for January came out showing her starting the month with about $14.5 million on hand. She spent nearly all of that, but replenished most of it and had $13 million on hand at the end of the month. So some of her top fundraisers are saying that we're not prepared to fold our tents and pray at the altar of Donald Trump. So those people are clearly not alone at this.

Her campaign is saying that she is the person, and that is kind of the reason to keep going. And to that point, they released her 11-stop schedule over seven Super Tuesday states, really reinforcing that if she gets blown out in her home state on Saturday, she's still going forward for as long as she can.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, that's Gavin Jackson with South Carolina Public Radio in Clemson, S.C. Gavin, thanks.

JACKSON: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAGIC IN THREES' "AT JODY'S") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Gavin Jackson
Gavin Jackson graduated with a visual journalism degree from Kent State University in 2008 and has been in the news industry ever since. He’s worked at newspapers in Ohio, Louisiana and most recently in South Carolina at the Florence Morning News and Charleston Post and Courier. His career as a multi-faceted journalist began in 2011 at the Morning News where he wrote, shot photos and video for daily stories in print, online and broadcast. His local political coverage got him hired onto The Post and Courier’s Statehouse bureau team in fall 2015. He covered the presidential primaries, Gov. Nikki Haley, the legislature and more. South Carolina ETV hired him in 2017 as their only news and public affairs reporter in an effort to grow SCETV’s news presence.