Haley Counting On Record Turnout Of Indy Voters To Beat Trump In New Hampshire

HAMPTON, N.H. ― After nearly a full year on the campaign trail, Nikki Haley’s presidential hopes on Tuesday will be in the hands of New Hampshirites like Adam O’Kane and Susan DeMarco.

O’Kane is a 34-year-old small business owner and app developer from nearby Stratham. DeMarco is a 70-year-old retiree from Hampton.

Both are “undeclared” voters, belonging to neither party and, under New Hampshire election rules, are therefore eligible to cast a ballot in either presidential primary. And on Sunday afternoon, both came out to The Old Salt Restaurant to listen to Dean Phillips, the Minnesota congressman challenging President Joe Biden, to help figure out whether to ask for a Democratic ballot to vote for Phillips or a Republican one to help Haley.

“I absolutely will not vote for Donald Trump,” said O’Kane, who said he can appreciate Phillips’ argument that he would be a stronger candidate against the coup-attempting former president but also sees the utility in voting for Haley. “I’d like to give her a puncher’s chance after New Hampshire.”

DeMarco said that while she, too, sees stopping Trump as the top priority, she was leaning toward voting in the Democratic primary ― unless last-minute polls on Tuesday show Haley within striking distance of Trump.

“I was hoping it would be closer,” she said.

Unfortunately for Haley, as the days have passed since Trump’s 30-point win in the Iowa caucuses over both Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s lead in New Hampshire has remained steady or even widened somewhat.

Trump led Haley by an average of 13 points on Jan. 15, but two new polls have him ahead by 18 and 19, possibly because he picked up more of DeSantis’ support than Haley did after DeSantis dropped out on Sunday.

The one big uncertainty, though, is who actually turns out to cast ballots on Tuesday. New Hampshire does not have early voting ― only limited absentee voting. New Hampshire’s elections chief, Secretary of State David Scanlan, has estimated a record 322,000 votes in the Republican primary, which would be nearly 40,000 more than the previous record set in 2016, when Trump beat a large field of traditional Republicans.

How many of those 322,000 are registered Republicans compared to how many are undeclared voters choosing Republican ballots for the day is likely to determine whether Haley can win. Undeclared voters make up the largest bloc of the state’s 877,000 voters, with 39%. The two parties split the remaining 61% almost evenly.

In recent polling, Trump wins registered Republicans by a wide margin, while losing independent voters by the same or even larger margins ― suggesting that if the number of undeclared voters voting in the GOP primary is higher than the number of registered Republicans, Haley could pull off a victory.

“She’ll need the electorate to be close to 50% undeclared ― unprecedented but theoretically possible given no real Democratic contest,” said former state Republican Chair Fergus Cullen. “And she’ll need to beat Trump by at least whatever he beats her among Republicans: 2-to-1 versus 2-to-1. Pretty simple math.”

New Hampshire’s independents have a history of upending the party favorite. In 2000, undeclared voters broke for Arizona Sen. John McCain 3-to-1 as he trounced GOP establishment favorite George W. Bush. McCain lost the nomination that year, but eight years later again got a big boost from independents as he beat front-runner Mitt Romney, giving him the lead and ultimately the nomination.

In 2008, undeclared voters accounted for 37% of the primary electorate, but in more recent primary elections that share increased to 47% in 2012 and 42% in 2016, according to exit polling data.

“She will need a record turnout, but I think it’s possible this year,” Steve Duprey, a former Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire, said of Haley. “I think she will need 55% of those or greater pulling Republican ballots, but I think that is very likely to happen because even undeclared voters who might tend to pick a Democrat ballot realize that stopping Trump is in their interest and they may cross over this time.”

Peter Slaton, an independent who has been voting Republican for the last eight years with the goal of stopping Trump, said he hopes Haley can pull it off, thereby giving her at least a chance of continuing on to the South Carolina primary next month, but said he is afraid she cannot.

“I don’t think so,” the 72-year-old semi-retired government worker said as he carried a Haley yard sign back to his car from her get-out-the-vote rally in Franklin Monday morning.

And if his worry turns out correct and Haley falls short? “Then I would have to vote for Biden,” he said, adding that another Trump presidency was unacceptable. “He scares me to death.”

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