New York Daily News

November has been Nikki Haley’s takeoff month

- S.E. CUPP secuppdail­

Perhaps “Nikki-mentum” is too clumsy. And maybe “Haley’s comet” is too cute. But however you want to put it, there’s no denying Nikki Haley is having a great month. Despite a brief mid-month hiccup — where Haley offered up an ill-conceived and backlash-inviting social media ban on anonymity — the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador seems to have fully recovered and is building serious momentum. This week, Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionair­e brothers Charles and David Koch, made a splashy announceme­nt with a ringing endorsemen­t of Haley and, presumably, a significan­t financial investment in her campaign.

Importantl­y, with less than two months to go before the Iowa caucuses, the backing gives Haley more campaign infrastruc­ture and organizati­on, helping with direct-mail operations, more field workers to knock on doors, TV advertisin­g, and additional staffing.

Americans for Prosperity explained its endorsemen­t with a direct swipe at the guy leading the GOP primary: “In sharp contrast to recent elections that were dominated by the negative baggage of Donald Trump and in which good candidates lost races that should have been won, Nikki Haley, at the top of the ticket, would boost candidates up and down the ballot.”

Furthermor­e, “The moment we face requires a tested leader with the governing judgment and policy experience­s to pull our nation back from the brink. Nikki Haley is that leader.”

It’s a huge win for Haley from an influentia­l and powerful group that’s already raised $70 million to help the Republican Party oust Trump.

Whether she — or anyone — can do that remains to be seen. Trump still leads GOP primary polls by double digits over Haley and Ron DeSantis. But unlike DeSantis, Haley’s star is on the rise.

Following an impressive Republican debate performanc­e three weeks ago, the headlines were nearly unanimous:

“Haley Walks Away with 3rd Debate.” And that’s not just according to right-wing media outlets, but Time, The Washington Post, The Hill and The New York Times.

Then, Tim Scott abruptly dropped out of the race. Despite raising and spending millions, he never cracked above 4% in an average of polls, and his lackluster debate performanc­es actually saw his favorabili­ty among Republican voters decline each time.

While he never appeared to be a serious challenger, his exit potentiall­y frees up South Carolina endorsemen­ts, fundraisin­g, staff and surrogates that he and Haley had presumably been splitting.

Then, 72 influentia­l Iowans endorsed Haley, including David Oman, a former gubernator­ial chief of staff, former Des Moines City Council member Christine Hensley, current state Reps. Jane Bloomingda­le and Brian Lohse, and a slew of other state officials.

This week, billionair­e Home Depot founder Ken Langone told CNBC he plans to meet with Haley next week as he considers endorsing her, saying that she is “the only person I see who can give Trump a run for his money...”

And JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon told the Times, “Even if you’re a very liberal Democrat, I urge you, help Nikki Haley, too. Get a choice on the Republican side that might be better than Trump.”

Also this week, a group of political operatives, including Jonathan Bush, cousin of former President George W. Bush and billionair­e CEO Frank Laukien, filed paperwork to launch a new Super PAC backing Haley, and specifical­ly aiming to broaden her appeal among independen­t voters.

Haley’s been rising in the polls, too. In New Hampshire, she’s moved into second place behind Trump in a CNN poll. Importantl­y for

Haley, that puts her ahead of Chris Christie, who’s made New Hampshire a must-win state.

And in a number of polls, she beats President Biden in a hypothetic­al general election matchup — in one case by 10 points, well ahead of Trump’s margins.

And Trump has noticed her rise. After a strong debate performanc­e in September, he attempted one of his signature, childish nicknames for her, calling her “birdbrain.” Thus far, it hasn’t caught on.

He also responded to the Koch brothers’ endorsemen­t by calling them a “corrupt network of globalist RINO donors,” and her a “puppet GOP candidate.”

Christie has also in recent TV interviews focused on Haley, and in debates DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy have made her a target, too.

So, what does all of this November momentum add up to? Maybe, ultimately, nothing — Trump is still leading the pack by double digits, even as he is facing 91 criminal charges and several different investigat­ions.

But if the GOP field consolidat­es — polls show that if Christie quits, many of his voters would go to Haley — she could end up becoming THE Trump alternativ­e, something many independen­ts, moderates, and disenchant­ed Republican­s have been hoping for.

The Iowa caucuses are Jan. 15. Can she keep up this momentum for six more weeks?

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