Polls show Haley closing the gap on Trump in New Hampshire ahead of Jan. 23 primary

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(Sioux City, Iowa) — Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is working feverishly to close the gap between her and former President Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican primary, with new polling showing Haley’s support growing in what could be a determinative contest in New Hampshire.

Just two weeks out from the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, a new CNN poll out Tuesday, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, shows Haley cutting into Trump’s lead, garnering 32% of the vote to his 39% and trailing him now by just seven points in the state, slicing her deficit from the last University of New Hampshire poll by 12 points.

The latest numbers are a positive signal for Haley, who has received several key endorsements over the last month from New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and the powerful Americans for Prosperity Action, backed by billionaire GOP megadonor Charles Koch.

“It’s another indication that there may be some real movement toward Haley and that she’s emerging as the main alternative to Trump,” Christopher Galderi, a professor at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, who studies the state’s primary, said of the recent University of New Hampshire poll.

Haley’s biggest gains appear to have come from undeclared voters, a key constituency in the fiercely independent Live Free or Die state, where she garnered support from 43% of those surveyed — up 18 points since the last poll in November and the largest share of any other candidate.

According to Dave Carney, a veteran New Hampshire-based GOP strategist who’s worked on several presidential campaigns, Sununu’s endorsement likely went a long way with the state’s undeclared voters, with whom he is particularly popular.

“I think if she gets a hunk of the independent or undeclared voters in her camp on election day, he [Sununu] gets a massive amount of credit because Nikki was campaigning for two years in New Hampshire, and they weren’t convinced,” he told ABC News.

Nearly 40% of New Hampshire’s electorate is composed of undeclared voters, who can choose whether to vote on a Democratic or Republican primary ballot. According to the University of New Hampshire poll, 45% of undeclared voters plan to vote in the GOP primary, which Carney said would be “historic” in a New Hampshire GOP primary if it rings true on Jan. 23.

Still, he warned not to oversimplify the impact of undeclared voters — who are often interchangeably referred to as “independents” — can have.

“Undeclared voters in Hampshire are not moderate or liberal. There are a lot of conservatives, and Trump will get a lot of those voters, too,” he said.

To ultimately beat Trump to the nomination, Haley will need to make up significant ground in more than just the granite state. Trump remains far and away the leader in Iowa, where caucusgoers will make their decision next Tuesday, and Haley’s home state of South Carolina — garnering support from 51% and 53% of voters in those states, respectively, according to FiveThirtyEight.

In Iowa, where Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are jockeying for a distant second place, it remains to be seen if any candidate will mount a feasible challenge against Trump.

In two campaign stops in New Hampshire last week, Sununu and Haley both appeared to downplay expectations of what lies ahead in the midwest state.

“I think she’s going to shock everyone in Iowa with a strong second. We know Trump’s gonna win the caucus in Iowa. That’s just a given. Right?,” Sununu said during a Haley town hall in Londonderry, New Hampshire, last Wednesday. Later that evening, Haley appeared to poke fun at the Iowa caucuses at a town hall in Milford, where she said that the state would later “correct” what Iowa starts in its caucus.

“I think Nikki Haley coming in second in Iowa would be a huge shock, right? But that’s what her campaign has been about. She’s been overachieving at every event. I mean, it’s gonna be tough,” Sununu told ABC News after the event, denying that she needed a second-place finish in Iowa to perform well in New Hampshire.

“Iowa and New Hampshire are completely separate. What you do in Iowa has nothing to do with New Hampshire. I mean, that’s just how it is historically,” he said.

But an underperformance in Iowa could have an adverse impact on Haley’s broader campaign, said Carney.

“If she came in a distant third in Iowa, it will hurt her tremendously,” he told ABC News. “When you’re building your campaign on perception and expectations, you need to hit those marks.”

Still, there are signs that Haley’s message — which has partially focused on expanding the Republican Party’s tent to a more diverse electorate — is resonating with moderate voters in Iowa, as well.

At a Haley town hall in Indianola, Iowa, on Saturday, Heather Wilcoxsin, a Democrat who voted for Joe Biden in 2020, said that she would be caucusing for the former U.N. ambassador.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat, and I’m so proud to be supporting you. And I sure hope our state does not elect Donald Trump it will make me sick,” Wilcoxsin told Haley during the question and answer portion.

Speaking to ABC News after, she added that while she aligns “pretty much entirely” with Biden on his policies, she feels that the president is “really old.”

“I compare him to the people in my life who are his age, and I’m like, should they be president? Probably not,” she said.

“I’m not hesitant necessarily to vote for him [Biden], but I am caucusing for Nikki Haley because I am very passionate about her,” she added, noting that if Haley is the GOP nominee, then she would likely flip for the Republican ticket in 2024.

“I was like, ‘maybe I’m 99% gonna support Joe Biden,"” Wilcoxsin said. “I actually think I totally flipped, and I probably will support her.”

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