Nikki Haley tries to draw New Hampshire’s independents without alienating voters who backed Donald Trump

Richard Anderson drove through a snowstorm last week to see his preferred candidate in New Hampshire’s Republican Primary. But he’s not sure how far he’ll go to support her if she wins the nomination.

Anderson, a 73-year-old independent voter from Jackson, liked what he heard from Nikki Haley at the Mount Washington Hotel. But he disagrees with the former U.N. Ambassador’s plan to pardon former President Donald Trump if he is convicted of any of the crimes he’s been charged with.

“That bothers me,” he said. “I’ll still vote for her in the Primary, but I’ll wait to see if she’s still saying that in the General Election.”

Haley’s best shot at shaking Trump’s grip on the Republican nomination rests with her ability to attract New Hampshire’s independent voters — including some who might not stick with her in November — without alienating too many conservatives. Other Republicans have hit the right balance here, notably John McCain in two GOP Primary victories. But those wins came long before Trump’s rise in politics and the Republicans’ rightward shifts both in the state and nationally.

“It’s a very difficult needle to thread,” said Nathan Shrader, an associate professor of politics at New England College, “because if she makes too much of an overt play for the independent voters, that could be a turnoff for some of the Republicans who we know in the Trump era are more conservative than they might have been a generation ago.”

Democrats can’t vote in the GOP Primary, but voters unaffiliated with a party — who make up nearly 40% of registered voters in New Hampshire — can. That makes them a key target, though they aren’t a monolith.

CNN/University of New Hampshire poll released Sunday found that a majority of registered Republicans likely to vote in the Primary — 67% — said they planned to vote for Trump. But a majority of those registered as undeclared — 58% — said they support Haley.

The poll, taken Tuesday through Friday, also found more registered Republicans in the state view Haley unfavorably (47%) than favorably (31%). Trump, meanwhile is viewed favorably by 76% of registered Republicans and unfavorably by just 16%.

Haley was viewed favorably by 42% of people who have registered themselves as undeclared, while 32% viewed her unfavorably. Just 34% of the same group, by contrast, views Trump favorably, compared with 59% unfavorably.

The poll was published before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped out of the race Sunday afternoon.

Some Haley supporters interviewed at her events are left-leaning voters who have little ideological overlap with Haley but are intent on stopping Trump. Others lean Republican and agree with her policies.

Corinne Pullen is a blend of both. Pullen, a retired 68-year-old nurse from Canterbury, said she’s impressed with Haley’s “strict and strong” foreign policies and her plans to decrease federal spending. She considers Trump a “narcissistic braggadocio buffoon.”

“When I compare these two candidates, it is a no-brainer who I would feel comfortable and safe having in the White House,” she said.

Trump has turned that crossover appeal into an attack line, suggesting that Haley is being propped up by “radical left Democrats.” The former President’s campaign argues Haley will struggle with conservatives in closed primaries like that of her home-state South Carolina, where the Feb. 24 Primary is the next big matchup for her and Trump.

“Her entire focus at this point in time … has been about turning out Democrats and behavioral Democrats to hijack the Republican Primary in New Hampshire,” Trump senior advisor Chris LaCivita told reporters this month.

As if to underscore that point, Trump on Saturday arranged for South Carolina’s current Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and several other elected leaders to come to New Hampshire to campaign with him. The day before, he won a rousing endorsement from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, whom Haley appointed to the Senate when she was Governor.

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