Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is raking in cash even amid polls showing her far behind former President Trump, underscoring the strong donor support that could carry her through the South Carolina primary.
Haley’s campaign announced Monday that she hauled in $16.5 million in January across her campaign committees, after raising $24 million in the fourth quarter last year. Trump had more in the bank at the end of the year, but he’s also spending heavily on legal costs as he faces multiple courtroom battles.
Yet even with the cash influx, Haley faces a tough slog in her effort to topple Trump, and strategists say she’ll need a strong showing in the Palmetto State to keep making her case to donors if she wants to make it to Super Tuesday and beyond.
“Maintaining a position in the 2024 Republican presidential primary is going to be solely based upon how well Nikki Haley raises funds moving forward,” said South Carolina-based Republican strategist Dave Wilson. “It is the gas in the tank that she has to have, especially once she gets out of early primary states.”
The former U.N. ambassador’s draw of big donors, like the Koch-aligned group AFP Action, has injected momentum into her campaign over the past several months, though Haley has lost both two nominating contests so far — in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Her $16.5 million January haul “does at least keep the lights on” for Haley, Wilson said.
The last quarter of 2023 was Haley’s best of the year, with her campaign bringing in roughly $24 million and ending with $14.5 million cash on hand. Her team reported some 180,000 donors to Haley’s presidential bid last year and nearly 70,000 more in January.
After Trump warned donors last month that anyone who contributes to Haley would be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp,” the former U.N. ambassador fundraised off the remark and announced a $1 million boost the next day.
Haley’s campaign manager Betsy Ankney said on a Monday call with reporters it’s “very clear” based on the team’s fundraising and ad buys “that we will have the resources to go the distance.”
But whether that’s enough to keep Haley moving forward is “relative,” said South Carolina-based GOP strategist Chip Felkel.
Haley came in third in Iowa and second in New Hampshire, prompting questions about whether she can avoid embarrassment in a one-on-one showdown with Trump in the state where she once served as governor. The latest South Carolina polling averages from The Hill/Decision Desk HQ show her trailing the former president by 31 percentage points.
Felkel called the January figures a “surprising and impressive haul” for Haley but noted the uphill climb Haley still faces on her home turf.
“Yes, it’s her home state. But she hasn’t been home for a while,” Felkel said.
Strategists are skeptical Haley can take the top slot in South Carolina but argue she could claim success if she comes within a margin much narrower than the gap seen in current polling.
“If she really wants to show staying power, she’s gonna have to come within 10 points of Donald Trump. If it’s 55-45, Haley stays there. But if it’s anything less than that, it’s gonna be hard for her to continue to raise money, and money is what you need in order to keep going,” Wilson said.
“If she comes in 15 points or more behind Donald Trump in South Carolina, there are going to be a lot of people who are going to question: Is this the best investment of my money moving forward?” he added.
Looking past February’s contests, Trump is ahead of Haley nationally by nearly 60 points, according to The Hill/Decision Desk HQ averages.
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist who’s backing Trump, said he doesn’t see a viable route for Haley even with her latest fundraising numbers, noting how much she’ll have to spend to stay competitive with Trump with more than a dozen primaries and caucuses happening in March.
“It’s a balance, how much to spend the next month between now and South Carolina, and then how much to dedicate toward Super Tuesday,” Mackowiak said.
Questions are swirling around why exactly Haley’s sticking with her long-shot bid, given the risk of alienating many in her party amid calls for her to drop out so support can quickly build behind Trump.
Last month, an effort to declare Trump the “presumptive nominee” was quashed when Trump said he wanted to “do it the ‘Old Fashioned’ way, and finish the process off AT THE BALLOT BOX,” suggesting the former president’s confidence he can crush Haley in her home state.
In addition to risking embarrassment in South Carolina, strategists say Haley’s continued campaign lessens her chances to be part of a possible Trump second term.
But Haley is also boosting her national profile, and some speculate she could be gearing up for a 2028 run. Over the weekend, Haley appeared on “Saturday Night Live” as part of a media blitz before the Palmetto State primary.
Others predict Haley is positioning herself as the top Trump alternative, waiting in the wings in case the former president is derailed by legal battles.
“It’s clear they are counting on the legal scenarios resulting in a conviction, and that changing things materially,” Mackowiak said.
The former president spent nearly $30 million in legal fees across his committees in the second half of 2023, a signal of how his courtroom obligations are straining his campaign.
In an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Monday, Haley sidestepped a question about whether she was staying in the race in case of a Trump conviction.
“I’m staying in this race. I mean, the court cases are an issue of itself,” Haley said.
“Two states have voted. Two,” the former South Carolina governor said at another point, noting it takes 1,215 delegates to become the party’s nominee. “Trump has 32, I have 17. We’ve got 48 states and more territories that need to vote.”
Haley isn’t eligible to win any of the delegates that are on the table in Nevada this week after tensions over a dueling primary and caucus in the state — a process her campaign has called “rigged for Trump.”
And later this month, South Carolina has a “winner-take-all” approach to delegate allocation, which Monmouth University’s polling director Patrick Murray said last week could mean “even a close second-place finish may not provide much momentum” for Haley.
“You can’t raise money if you don’t have momentum,” Felkel said.
Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.