Biden's tough task: Winning over Haley voters

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President Biden’s reelection campaign faces the difficult task of appealing to moderate Republicans who may feel like they don’t have a place to go this election with former President Trump on the ballot.

The president has a prime opportunity to peel off some of those voters, which would boost his reelection chances and expand his coalition.

Their numbers are significant: Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) snagged 16 percent of GOP voters in last week’s Pennsylvania primary despite dropping her bid against Trump almost two months ago.

“It requires work, but I think it’s doable,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters Friday, noting that a large swath of the 35 percent Haley won in his home state say they will not support Trump in November.

Kaine also said that simply keeping them out of Trump’s column would be a victory in itself.

“You don’t have to win them over if they don’t vote for Trump, that’s a vote out of Trump’s category. Now, I think we are going to win some of them over,” Kaine said, adding that he is actively courting them as part of his reelection campaign in the Old Dominion. “We are focusing on those folks, and we think we have a chance to get a lot of them and I think President Biden can too.” 

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), whose own run in the GOP presidential primary attracted moderate-leaning Republicans, made headlines last week when he said it was “pretty stupid” that Biden hadn’t reached out to ask directly for his support.

Christie has made clear that he would not vote for Trump and said in a conversation Tuesday night hosted at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics that Biden should ask him for his vote and support.

The Biden campaign didn’t provide a response to why he hasn’t reached out to Christie.

The decision, though, speaks to the uphill battle Biden faces to appeal to those types of Republicans.

“It’s unfortunate that I think the president is starting from a little bit of a deficit because of the first two years of his administration not really being one that was working on a game of addition, in terms of the electorate. But rather, it seemed in those first couple of years that this White House was much more willing to listen to the professional progressive class,” said John LaBombard, former communications director to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).

“It is easy to forget that voters don’t have to pick a choice if they’re dissatisfied with their choices. So disenchanted Republican voters who don’t want to support Donald Trump could very easily just leave the presidential line with their ballot blank,” he added.

Still, the Biden campaign is working to court Haley voters, an effort it launched as soon as Haley dropped out of the GOP primary.

The campaign launched a new ad Thursday, aiming to target Haley voters and underscore Trump’s insults toward her and her supporters to target disaffected Republicans.

The campaign previously released an ad that featured clips of Trump criticizing Haley during the GOP primary, with the warning, “If you voted for Nikki Haley, Donald Trump doesn’t want your vote.” Biden’s team has also released a statement arguing that Trump has been clear that voters who aren’t part of MAGA aren’t welcome in his camp.

“I think it is a worthy investment. I think the president has an opening here with moderate, sort of common sense Republican voters, who while they may be conservative, are rightly disenchanted with the chaos around former President Trump and what that might mean for the country under a second Trump term,” LaBombard said. 

Haley had strong showings in other GOP primaries, like in her home state of South Carolina. The former United Nations ambassador also took home primary wins in Vermont and the District of Columbia in March.

But it’s the Pennsylvania numbers that are giving Democrats fresh optimism and causing heartburn for some Republicans given the narrow results that helped hand Trump the presidency in 2016 and took it away four years later. The heart of the 157,000 votes she pulled came in the suburban Philadelphia counties where she won nearly 42,000 votes and hit a high-water mark of 25 percent. 

“In a closed state, that is not an insignificant number,” said one Republican strategist, noting that Trump won the state by only 44,000 votes in 2016 before Biden eked it out by 80,000 in 2020. “157,000 in a meaningless primary where everyone knew she had dropped out. You’re talking about razor thin margins in a competitive primary. … You do not have a huge margin for error if even half of those voters become Biden voters.” 

As of last month, Trump had yet to reach out to Haley in an attempt to reconcile after the bruising primary battle — something that has not changed nearly two months after she ended her campaign. Haley has also declined to offer an endorsement for the ex-president.

All of this came after he declared that he “TROUNCED” her on Super Tuesday in a TruthSocial post before calling on Haley supporters to “join the greatest movement in the history of our Nation.” 

​​Meanwhile, the Biden campaign has made sure to highlight times Trump has pushed away Haley voters, like the various times he called her “birdbrain” and “not presidential material.” They’ve also shared a quote from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who said on his podcast recently, “Screw Nikki Haley — we don’t need her endorsement.” 

David Thomas, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Vice President Al Gore, noted that Biden has an opening because Trump doesn’t seem to be working hard to appeal to moderates.

“I think that the president is trying to reach out to the moderate middle, moderate Republicans and particularly independents,” he said. “That’s the coalition he’s going to need to win if it’s going to be this close selection, which we all know it is. It’s something that yes, he’s doing here, and it’s something that President Trump decidedly will not do.”

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