Nikki Haley hunts for California votes, shrugs off snub in Nevada presidential primary

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After a symbolic snub in Nevada’s primary, Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign headed Wednesday to California, where she faces another longshot bid against former President Donald Trump and again sought to tamp down any talk that she might leave the race. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m in this for the long haul,” Haley said to cheers during an indoor rally in Los Angeles’ historic Hollywood neighborhood, where she did not mention the embarrassing Nevada outcome.

With mail voting underway in California, supporters who turned out on a rainy night were eager for Haley to continue her one-on-one rivalry with Trump and shrugged off the Nevada setback as insignificant and soon to be forgotten. “I hope she fights,” said Democratic voter Steven Whiddon, who works in film and TV production. Though he can’t vote in the state GOP primary, which is open only to registered Republican voters, he’s backing Haley because “she’s sane, she’s practical.”

The Nevada vote was “completely rigged by Trump supporters,” he said. Haley “didn’t lose a thing.” As the GOP contest has winnowed to two major candidates, Haley has embraced the role of defiant Trump foil and self-styled establishment outsider. Another Trump term in the White House, she warns, would bring the nation “chaos.”

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A day earlier, the former U.N. ambassador – the last major rival contesting Trump’s ascent to the nomination – was stung in Nevada, where GOP voters overwhelmingly chose a “none of these candidates” option on the ballot, bypassing Haley in what amounted to a public rebuke. It was a token vote, however – the primary didn’t award any delegates needed to secure the GOP nomination and Haley did not campaign in Nevada after contending that Trump allies rigged the rules in his favor.

Haley supporter Sheldon Kay said she needs to change direction and try to engage Trump supporters on issues like immigration and the economy, rather than relentlessly criticize the former president. He said the friction with Trump supporters was behind her finish in Nevada. She “needs to peel away some of the Trump loyalists,” said Kay, a retired psychologist. Her message “is falling on deaf ears with the people she needs to persuade.” “She needs to do that to have any chance,” he added.

Wayne Watkins, who lives in Upland, east of Los Angeles, said he changed parties from independent to Republican to vote for Haley, drawn to her moderate brand of politics. He said he recognizes she faces long odds but worries that Trump’s legal problems could doom a general election campaign. For Haley, “Quitting gets you nothing at this point,” said Watkins, who also is volunteering for the campaign.

By staying in the race there is the “possibility of success.” Her campaign says it raised $16.5 million in January and argues that she, not Trump, would be the stronger general election candidate. Trump didn’t compete in the Nevada primary and instead focused on the state’s Thursday caucuses, where he is expected to claim all 26 of delegates in play. Trump also is strongly favored in California, where the primary election concludes March 5 – so-called Super Tuesday, when the state will be among more than a dozen holding elections. It’s possible he could sweep the state’s trove of 169 delegates, the biggest prize in the nominating contest.

Heavily Democratic California probably will be an afterthought in November 2024 – the state’s lopsided electorate makes it a virtual lock for Democrats on Election Day. The last Republican presidential nominee to carry the state was George H.W. Bush in 1988.