Nikki Haley Gains Traction in Iowa

Republican presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Tim Scott participate in the first debate of the GOP primary season on August 23, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Nikki Haley and Tim Scott are two South Carolinians headed in opposite directions—in Iowa. 

Interest in Haley’s once stagnant presidential campaign is spiking in the Hawkeye State after the former South Carolina governor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations delivered a crisp performance in the first Republican debate on August 23 that was lauded by grassroots conservatives. Meanwhile, Scott faces fresh doubts about his viability after the previously ascendant South Carolina senator turned in an uneven showing on the big stage in Milwaukee.

“Tim Scott whiffed and Nikki looks like the real deal,” says a neutral Republican consultant in Iowa. Adds a second unaffiliated GOP operative based there: “People around here think Tim Scott really missed the moment at the debate. Nikki Haley, meanwhile, surged.” Both strategists requested anonymity to speak candidly. 

That’s a change from what pre-debate polling indicated: Scott is running third in Iowa behind former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both in the RealClearPolitics average and a mid-August poll conducted by expert Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer for NBC News, the Des Moines Register, and Mediacom. In both data sets, the senator outpaces Haley. But no new Iowa surveys have been made public since the prime-time debate. 

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