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Trump beats Haley decisively in N.H., closing in on nomination

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Donald Trump marched closer to the Republican nomination with a sweep of the first two contests, defeating former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley on Tuesday as voters turned out in projected record numbers in New Hampshire’s primary.

Trump’s lead here was decisive enough for the Associated Press to project his win shortly after polls closed. With nearly 75 percent of the vote tallied, Trump led Haley by about 11 percentage points. The Republican primary attracted widespread interest across the state, with turnout on pace to surpass the previous high, according to Edison Research estimates.

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Trump’s victory dealt another blow to critics in his party who saw the New Hampshire race as perhaps the last best chance to stop or slow him. His campaign was eager to end the nominating contest and turn its focus to a rematch with President Biden and the battery of criminal and civil trials that Trump is facing — including charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election results, mishandling classified documents after leaving office and paying hush money to an adult-film actress before the 2016 election.

Haley vowed to press on and challenged Trump to debate her. Despite his comfortable win, Trump appeared peeved with Haley’s continued presence in the race, and his pivot to a general-election message or striking a triumphant note on a night that was supposed to finalize his presumptive nomination took a back seat to hammering her. He devoted the start of his victory speech to attacking her repeatedly, he called her “DELUSIONAL!!!” in a social media post.

The pressure on Haley to bow out mounted Tuesday night as allies accused her of helping Biden by staying in the race. Trump picked up endorsements from Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who has previously called for the party to move on from Trump.

“I have seen enough,” Cornyn said on social media. “Republicans need to unite around a single candidate, and it’s clear that President Trump is Republican voters’ choice.”

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Haley is heading to her home state of South Carolina to campaign for its primary on Feb. 24.

“New Hampshire is first in the nation. It is not the last,” she told her supporters Tuesday night. “The worst-kept secret in politics is how badly the Democrats want to run against Donald Trump,” she said, to shouts of “Trump’s a loser!”

Despite her shrinking path to halting Trump’s march to the Republican nomination, Haley’s showing in New Hampshire hinged on independents, who are permitted to vote in this state’s Republican primary. Haley’s strength with those voters exposed weaknesses for Trump in a potential rematch with Biden in November, as moderate Republicans and right-leaning independents sent a message that the party’s internal divisions will not disappear so quickly.

Preliminary exit polling in New Hampshire showed about 3 in 10 Republican primary voters considered themselves part of the MAGA movement while over 6 in 10 did not. In Iowa, where Trump won in a landslide with Republican caucus-goers last week, 46 percent considered themselves MAGA.

“I’m Republican, and I’m not going to vote for the other candidate irregardless,” Roy Pieczarka of Bedford said after voting at the high school for Haley. “No thank you, that’s not what we need. I’m not going to vote for the man whose last name begins with T.”

Trump brushed off questions about his appeal when speaking to reporters outside a polling place in Londonderry. “They’re all going to vote for me again,” he said. “I’m not sure we need too many.”

The Biden campaign also reacted to Tuesday’s results with a focus on November. “It is now clear that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee,” Biden said in a statement. “I want to say to all those Independents and Republicans who share our commitment to core values of our nation — our Democracy, our personal freedoms, an economy that gives everyone a fair shot — to join us as Americans.”

Democrats also voted here Tuesday, but Biden did not appear on the ballot because the party is holding its first official contest in South Carolina. New Hampshire held its primary first anyway, so the contest will not yield any delegates for the summer nominating convention. Still, some Biden allies ran a campaign urging voters to write in his name, in hopes of generating a symbolic show of support amid low approval ratings. Biden won the Democratic race, the AP projected late Tuesday.

“The alternative is so scary,” said Michelle O’Rourke, a Democrat in Bedford. “I’m just so upset with all the Republicans. I wouldn’t want anything to do with any of them.”

New Hampshire voters in the Republican primary split about evenly between people who were registered as Republicans and those registered as independent or undeclared, with a tiny share saying they were not registered to vote before Election Day, according to early exit polls. Independents and undeclared registered voters supported Haley by about a 2-to-1 margin, while registered Republicans supported Trump by about 3 to 1.

Just over half said they believed the false claim that Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 presidential election. They overwhelmingly went for Trump, by over a 6-to-1 margin. The roughly half who said he legitimately won supported Haley about 4 to 1.

The race now moves to Nevada, where Trump is poised to dominate the caucuses while Haley competes in a primary that does not count for delegates. After that, in South Carolina, Trump has maintained a wide lead in the polls of at least 30 points. His campaign has taunted her with warnings of a humiliating defeat there and brought out the state’s top-ranking Republicans who have all endorsed Trump.

“This election is over,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said at Trump’s victory party. “It is time for the Republican Party to coalesce around our nominee and the next president of the United States, Donald Trump. Let’s get that party started tonight!”

Trump suggested Scott “must really hate” Haley, since she originally appointed him to his Senate seat. Scott played it off by responding, “I just love you,” as the crowd laughed.

Haley’s campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, released a memo as voting began Tuesday vowing to fight on through Super Tuesday in March, despite pre-primary polls showing Trump with a widening lead here and less favorable contests ahead for Haley. The memo argued that outperforming with independents could buoy her after South Carolina. Michigan has an open primary, and 11 of the 16 Super Tuesday states also allow non-Republicans to vote to some extent.

“We’re onto South Carolina tomorrow morning,” Mark Harris, the lead strategist for the main pro-Haley super PAC, told reporters at the expo center in downtown Manchester. “Our goal in New Hampshire was to narrow the field down to two. We did that before a single vote was cast. … The campaign is built for a long-term fight, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Haley has staked her appeal on raising doubts about Trump’s electability and citing polls showing her outperforming him in a hypothetical matchup with Biden. But less than 2 in 10 Republican primary voters said they wanted a candidate who could beat Biden, and about 6 in 10 of them supported Trump.

Fergus Cullen, a New Hampshire Republican strategist who opposes Trump, said Haley’s slightly better-than-expected performance did not signal the electorate is moving away from Trump. “In a semi-open primary state [Haley] would need to keep him under 50 percent to make that argument that the GOP is open to moving on.

Trump has the next nine months to convince independents to take his side, said Mike Dennehy, a New Hampshire GOP operative who helmed John McCain’s primary wins in the state in 2000 and 2008. He cautioned that it was hard to draw conclusions about Trump’s broader support from Tuesday’s results. He expected Trump to hammer immigration and the economy as Biden has his own struggle to woo independents.

The challenge for Haley of mobilizing non-Republicans to vote in Republican primaries was on display at polling locations Tuesday, as some independents said they were not excited to cast a protest vote for a candidate they didn’t like.

“I just didn’t want to give any air” to the Republicans, said independent Melinda Chen, who voted for Biden in Bedford.

Other Democrats said they showed up expecting to cast a protest vote for Haley but couldn’t because they hadn’t switched their party registration by the October deadline. One such voter, Donna Gaudette in Manchester, said she unenthusiastically cast her ballot for Biden.

Just 408 Democrats changed their registration to Republican, according to tallies provided by state officials, while 3,542 changed their registration from Democratic to undeclared. New Hampshire Secretary of State David M. Scanlan said he expected turnout to meet or exceed his prediction of a record 322,000 Republicans.

“I would like to have a new generation of leaders in Washington, and one that’s got their full faculties and is also trying to drive a wedge,” Christian Fiore, an unaffiliated voter in Merrimack, said after voting for Haley. If Trump won the Republican nomination, Fiore said, “I would vote for Biden, unfortunately, because I think Trump’s a threat to democracy.”

At Haley’s watch party, Bruce Lariviere, 65, said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 but couldn’t support him after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. “He’s supposed to be better than that,” Lariviere said. “She reminds me of Reagan, John Kennedy. She really just wants to bring people into the fold.”

Trump and his allies went into Tuesday preemptively disparaging the legitimacy of courting non-Republicans, with the former president misleadingly suggesting that Democrats could vote in the GOP primary. In his victory speech, Trump falsely blamed the long-standing practice on the state’s current Republican governor, Chris Sununu, who endorsed Haley.

“They want to make me look as bad as possible,” Trump said.

He praised Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for dropping out and endorsing him after placing second in Iowa, and he brought up another vanquished rival, Vivek Ramaswamy, to attack Haley, introducing him as “The only person more angry, than let’s say me. But I don’t get too angry, I get even.”

Marianne LeVine, Maeve Reston, Dylan Wells in New Hampshire and Mariana Alfaro in Washington contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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