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Haley courts independents, Democrats as she aims to avoid a blowout to Trump on her home turf

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nikki Haley is looking to prevent what Donald Trump’s presidential campaign predicts will be an ‘a– kicking’ in her home state of South Carolina Saturday by courting independent voters.

‘This is an open primary,’ Haley emphasized in a ‘Fox and Friends’ interview this week.

The former two-term Palmetto State governor who later served as U.N. ambassador in the former president’s administration notes that ‘anybody can vote in the primary, as long as you didn’t vote in the Democrat primary on February 3rd in South Carolina.’

Trump is the 2024 GOP frontrunner as he bids a third straight time for the White House. He grabbed a majority of the votes last month in Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary victories and won by a landslide earlier this month in the Nevada and U.S. Virgin Island caucuses to close in on locking up the nomination.

The final polls in South Carolina showed Trump maintaining a large double-digit lead over Haley, the last remaining major rival challenging the former president.

Independents helped fuel Haley’s 43% showing in New Hampshire, where she lost to Trump by 11 points. But while independent voters have long played a crucial and influential role in the first-in-the-nation primary, they are much less of a factor in South Carolina’s more conservative electorate, where evangelical voters enjoy prominence in GOP contests.

A Monmouth University poll about South Carolina’s primary conducted last weekend had Trump with a 72%-to-25% lead among Republicans questioned, similar to how he performed with GOP voters in New Hampshire. Haley, meanwhile, held a narrow 53%-46% advantage among independents.

The problem for Haley is nearly two-thirds of those sampled by the survey indicated they were Republicans, with only 28% identifying as independents.

Longtime South Carolina-based Republican consultant Dave Wilson, who remains neutral in the primary, noted ‘there is no party registration in this state.’

‘They’re targeting what would be considered independent or swing voters. There’s just not that many in South Carolina. You’re either an R or a D in this state,’ Wilson said, addressing Haley’s campaign efforts. 

He added the Haley campaign and aligned groups are ‘trying to find people who are so against Donald Trump that they’re willing to step into a Republican booth and choose her name just to vote against Trump.’

Haley’s allies are also making a pitch for Democrats who didn’t cast a ballot in the party’s relatively low turnout presidential primary earlier this month to vote in the GOP contest.

‘If you did not vote in the February 3rd Democratic primary, you are eligible to vote on February 24th.’ a mailer sent to Democratic voters by the Haley-aligned super PAC SFA Fund states.

‘Your vote can make a difference,’ the mailer emphasized. ‘Please participate by voting for Nikki Haley and make your voice heard.’

Haley has repeatedly vowed to march on regardless of her finish on Saturday. Michigan, on Tuesday, holds the next contest, and it’s also an open primary.

In early March, nearly 800 delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday, and over 150 will be at stake over the ensuing two weeks. Among the states holding contests on Super Tuesday are delegate-rich California and Texas, and other big states like Florida, Illinois and Ohio will hold winner-take-all primaries March 19. Polling in many of those states indicates Trump holding large leads over Haley.

But Haley’s campaign notes that 11 of the 16 Super Tuesday contests aren’t limited to registered Republicans. 

Campaign manager Betsy Ankeny in a recent memo highlighted that the upcoming open primaries contain ‘significant fertile ground for Nikki.’

Trump and his allies have repeatedly blasted Haley over the courting of independents and even some Democrats.

‘The Democrats are giving her money, and she’s playing into the game. And I think she just can’t get, she just can’t get herself to get out. She is doing poorly in the polls. Look, if she was doing well, I’d understand it, but she’s doing very poorly,’ Trump said Tuesday in a Fox News town hall in Greenville, South Carolina.

Haley, in an interview the next morning on Fox News’ ‘America’s Newsroom,’ fired back.

‘He can keep saying I have big Democrat donors. At the same time, look at his disclosures. But I don’t ask donors whether they’re Republican, Democrat or independent,’ she said.

‘We’re fighting for the Republican primary, but there are a lot of independents who left the Republican Party because of Donald Trump. We are pulling them back. … We’re pulling Reagan Democrats back. And Republicans need to remember this is not about pushing people out of our party. And that’s why I do well with everybody, not just Republicans, not just independents.’

Seasoned Republican strategist and communicator Ryan Williams pointed out that ‘it’s up to each state to choose its process. … That’s generally been a principle of states’ rights that Republicans have long supported.’

Williams, a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, noted that when Romney won the nomination a dozen years ago ‘we were essentially the establishment and tried to draw in independents to offset what seemed to be a rotation of conservative challengers.

‘We courted independent voters, and we had an eye on the general election too,’ Williams recalled. ‘We wanted to make sure we were drawing independents to vote for us in the primary who would hopefully stick around for the general election.’

This post appeared first on FOX NEWS

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