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Haley came in 3rd in Iowa's caucuses. Her campaign looks ahead to primaries

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to talk about former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. She brought in 19% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses yesterday, placing her in third place. That's far behind the former president, Donald Trump, and just behind Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Now, Haley will turn to next week's New Hampshire primary, where polls show her performing well against the frontrunner, former President Trump. But Haley's viability as a presidential candidate will truly be tested next month in her home state of South Carolina when the state holds its Republican primary elections.

Gavin Jackson knows a lot about South Carolina politics and Nikki Haley's political career. He's with South Carolina Public Radio, and he is with us now to tell us more. Good morning.

GAVIN JACKSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So I understand that you are in West Des Moines, Iowa, and you've been following Haley in the lead up to last night's caucuses. What about her message resonated with Iowa voters?

JACKSON: Well, what I heard from Iowans who supported Haley is that they wanted someone who isn't going to complain or look backwards or pick fights in an attempt to look strong, right? So Haley spent time getting to know these people, staying until the very end at all these events that she had, took photos with folks and connect with them on that personal level. That was that hard work that is kind of how she helped close that gap and came within two points of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in this battle for second.

MARTIN: Well, it seems that that still wasn't enough to sway those who ended up supporting Trump or DeSantis. So talk about the challenges that Haley's going to face going forward.

JACKSON: Well, her last name still isn't Trump, so that's the biggest problem. But Haley did come in third, and this finish keeps some wind in her sails heading into an already supportive New Hampshire. DeSantis is moving to get a jump on South Carolina. In fact, he's there this morning, then he's going to New Hampshire this evening. But all the money and all the time he spent in Iowa, and he was still 30 points behind Trump. And then Haley came in 32 points behind Trump, so not much of a difference there when you think about it.

But historically, South Carolina would be all hers - right? - former governor. But this Palmetto State situation right now is very much Trump country. He still has very strong support from several major Republican elected officials. But Haley will continue to push her underdog status, as she did in 2004 when she got into the statehouse and in 2010, when she rode the Tea Party wave to the governor's mansion, knocking off several well-known politicians.

MARTIN: Well, just say more about Haley in her home state. What are you - what do people say about her there?

JACKSON: Well, I think they're - I mean, they're focused on the folks that people, you know - when you talk about that, people are really, like I'm saying, it's big Trump country there, right? So she has her base of support down there. It's pretty much a ceiling though. I don't know how much higher it's going to be able to go even if she does well in New Hampshire, even what she did in Iowa, because it's just built in like it is in so many of these other early voting states.

MARTIN: And what about people who aren't necessarily part of the Trump base, I mean, you know, independents, for example?

JACKSON: Well, that's the thing, too, that it's not so much up for grabs down there in South Carolina, especially if we're going to talk about it being an open primary down there, like you're looking at in New Hampshire and in South Carolina. You're not going to get Democrats crossing over like they did in Iowa or they'll do in New Hampshire - right? - because there's not that much love lost between the two of them.

MARTIN: That is Gavin Jackson with South Carolina Public Radio. Gavin, thank you.

JACKSON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered and host of the Consider This Saturday podcast, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Gavin Johnson