New Hampshire primary: Trump, Haley face off after DeSantis drops out

Campaign signs alongside the highway in Concord, New Hampshire on January 18, 2024. The state’s primary is scheduled for January 23, 2024.

Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

New Hampshire voters head to the polls Tuesday for the first primary election of the 2024 presidential cycle.

But if former President Donald Trump has his way, the kickoff race could effectively mark the end of the road to the Republican nomination.

Following his landslide victory in the Iowa caucuses, Trump and his supporters are looking for a Granite State blowout that will extinguish the campaign of his sole remaining challenger: former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley.

Haley became the last Trump rival standing on Sunday after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended his campaign and endorsed the former president.

DeSantis had been polling a distant third in New Hampshire and invested his last-ditch efforts into Haley’s home state of South Carolina before officially exiting the race.

Polls indicate New Hampshire offers Haley her best chance for a win, given the high proportion of undeclared voters and that she has secured several key endorsements in the state like Gov. Chris Sununu.

Regardless of the outcome Tuesday in New Hampshire, political experts say it’s hard to envision Haley catching up to Trump’s overall lead.

“When you say it out loud, you realize it starts to sound like something out of a West Wing fan fiction,” said Chris Galdieri, a political science professor at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

Here’s what to know, and what to watch out for:

New Hampshire by the numbers

Here are the figures to know ahead of the primary, as provided by the office of New Hampshire Secretary of State David M. Scanlan.

Number of voting locations: 309

Number of primary election workers: Over 6,000

Number of candidates on the GOP primary ballots: 24

Number of candidates on the Democratic primary ballots: 21 (and Biden isn’t one of them)

Number of registered Republicans: 267,768

Number of registered Democrats: 261,254

Number of registered independents/”Undeclared”: 344,335

Total registered voters: 873,357

Expected Republican turnout: 322,000

Expected Democratic turnout: 88,000

Polling hours: Usually between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., but it can vary. State law requires polling locations to open no later than 11 a.m. and close no earlier than 7 p.m.

Trump wants to bury the competition

Republican presidential candidate former US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on January 17, 2024.

Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

Trump has long treated his GOP primary victory as a foregone conclusion. After scorching his rivals in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, Trump and his supporters have been ratcheting up the pressure on them to drop out.

Trump won by a 30-point margin in Iowa, squashing any hopes DeSantis or Haley, who respectively took second and third, had for a jolt of momentum that could boost their chances in New Hampshire.

While Tuesday’s primary result is expected to be narrower, the latest polls of likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters show Trump leading Haley by double digits.

Just as important as the size of that lead, is who will be voting for whom. The surveys show Haley leads Trump among independents — a crucial bloc in the Granite State, where there are more “Undeclared” voters than Republicans or Democrats.

But Trump has a massive advantage among registered Republicans, giving him the overall edge in the state. Trump’s dominance among registered Republican voters will only become more important as the nominating contest moves to redder states later this spring.

For Trump’s supporters, there is only one thing for the rest of the GOP field to do: Get out of the leader’s way.

“I am calling on every other candidate — all of whom have no chance to win — to drop out so we can unify and immediately rally behind President Trump,” House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York wrote on X, formerly Twitter. 

Stefanik is a vocal Trump loyalist who is reportedly a contender to be his running mate.

Other Trump supporters in Congress and conservative media, like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Fox News opinion host Sean Hannity, are also declaring the race is over.

They have been joined in recent days by a growing number of Trump’s one-time Republican primary rivals — DeSantis, Nebraska Gov. Doug Burgum, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — have all recently endorsed the former president.

Under pressure, Haley needs a win

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at a rally at the Omni Mt. Washington Hotel & Resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, U.S. January 16, 2024. 

Faith Ninivaggi | Reuters

Haley took third in Iowa, narrowly falling behind DeSantis despite some polls ahead of the caucus showing her leading the Florida governor. That didn’t stop her from asserting in a post-caucus speech that “Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race.”

As of DeSantis’ Sunday exit, Haley is officially right.

She and Trump have been the top two candidates by far in the New Hampshire polls, with DeSantis a distant third. Haley’s standing in the state is buoyed largely by its independent voters.

The Granite State is “tailor-made for a candidate like Haley,” Galdieri said.

Still, these polls show Trump with a sizable lead. Ahead of Tuesday, Haley’s allies are already tempering expectations.

“A strong second is going to be great, that’s wonderful,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday. The moderate Republican governor, who hails from a Granite State political dynasty, has endorsed and campaigned with Haley.

Read more CNBC politics coverage

But now, in a race of two, placing silver also means placing last. That could up the pressure for Haley who is already facing more heat from her top donors. After Iowa, several of them worried that her campaign would be over if she failed to pull off a win in New Hampshire, CNBC reported Tuesday.

Part of this pessimism is rooted in the political makeup of the states that come after New Hampshire. For example, Haley’s home state of South Carolina will hold its primary on Feb. 3. Known for its deeply conservative Republican electorate, polls in the Palmetto State already show Trump leading Haley there by an even wider margin than he does in New Hampshire.

One thing that could help Haley on Tuesday, experts said, would be a higher-than-expected turnout, because the boost would likely be driven by independents.

The problem for Haley: Enthusiasm drives turnout, and excitement has been sorely lacking throughout the primary.

“The vibe is definitely downbeat,” Scala said. “The vibe is, we’re all marking time in New Hampshire until this is over.”

DeSantis would have made ‘no impact’

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis makes a campaign stop at LaBelle Winery on Wednesday January 17, 2024 in Derry, NH.

Matt McClain | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Even before DeSantis officially took himself off the ballot, his New Hampshire performance was expected to be a drop in the bucket.

The Florida governor’s support had been on the slide for months, and he was all but guaranteed to fare much worse in New Hampshire than he did in Iowa, where he came in a distant second to Trump.

DeSantis is “going to make no impact here,” Scala predicted before DeSantis’ drop-out announcement.

Recent polls of the state’s voters showed support for DeSantis at 6% or lower, versus 50% and higher for Trump.

DeSantis widely expected shellacking on Tuesday, which will now never come, was also a product of his resource allocation. Ahead of the Iowa caucuses, DeSantis conducted more than 170 events in Iowa. In the same period, he held just 46 in New Hampshire, according to NBC News.

The super PAC Never Back Down, which has worked closely with DeSantis’ campaign, said it had knocked on more than 812,000 doors in Iowa by late December. But just 385,000 in New Hampshire.

Days away from the New Hampshire primary, DeSantis’ campaign had already been shifting resources to South Carolina, while still holding some events in New Hampshire.

“It seems like that campaign is throwing spaghetti at the wall, hoping something sticks,” Galdieri said before DeSantis suspended his campaign.

What about Biden?

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his economic plan during a visit to Abbotts Creek Community Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., January 18, 2024. 

Nathan Howard | Reuters

President Joe Biden is running for reelection in 2024, and like Trump, he also sees few obstacles in his path to the Democratic nomination.

But he won’t be on the ballot in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary, which also takes place Tuesday.

That’s because the Democratic National Committee, following Biden’s recommendation, this year chose to recognize South Carolina as the first presidential primary state.

In 2020, then-candidate Biden came in fifth in New Hampshire. But it was his subsequent victory in South Carolina that helped revive his campaign and propel him to the lead.

New Hampshire state law, however, requires that it hold the country’s first primary.

The DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee in October advised Democratic campaigns not to file to appear on the New Hampshire ballot, and Biden’s campaign said it would follow that guidance, NBC reported.

While Biden’s name will not be among the 21 candidates on the New Hampshire Democratic primary ballots, voters can still write in his name.

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