Nikki Haley to make play for evangelicals in speech to school founded by Pat Robertson

Nikki Haley
Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign rally in the South Carolina state House district she used to represent on Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Gilbert, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

Nikki Haley to make play for evangelicals in speech to school founded by Pat Robertson

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Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will speak at Regent University’s commencement ceremony on May 6 in a likely pitch to evangelicals at the private Christian school in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to support her presidential campaign.

Haley, a 2024 GOP presidential candidate and the former governor of South Carolina, has lagged in polls behind former President Donald Trump since announcing her 2024 campaign in February. A Morning Consult poll in February showed Haley at 6% compared to Trump’s 50%.

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Haley has also trailed Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who has not entered the 2024 race.

In a recent Yahoo News-YouGov poll conducted after Trump’s indictment for paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels, 21% of those surveyed said they would back DeSantis for president, and 52% supported Trump. But only 5% supported Haley.

Haley’s commencement speech at Regent University has similar tones to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who announced his 2016 presidential bid at Liberty University, another Christian institution, in Lynchburg, Virginia.

“I am honored to stand with each and every one of you courageous conservatives as we come together to reclaim the promise of America, to reclaim the mandate, the hope, and opportunity for our children and our children’s children,” Cruz told the crowd. “We stand together for liberty.”

In more similarities: Cruz and Haley are both children of immigrants. Cruz was the first Republican to announce a presidential campaign in 2015, while Haley was the first Republican to challenge Trump for president in 2023.

Yet Trump defeated Cruz in the Republican primary, going on to win the presidency.

Brian Kirwin, a Virginia political consultant with more than 20 years of experience, called Haley’s appearance at Regent University a “pretty strategic move on her part.” Kirwin said Haley will likely do well during South Carolina’s primary because of home-state advantage, which could help her heading into Super Tuesday, of which Virginia is one of the states to hold a primary, next year.

“She has a strong following among conservatives,” he continued. “I think she’s just trying to strengthen those ties in a politically advantageous way with the calendar, the way it’s structured.”

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If Trump or DeSantis were to falter in his front-runner status, Haley is in a good position to step up, Kirwin added.

“Regent University sends all the signals to the evangelical base, and even to the Republican base in general, that she’s a top-tier candidate,” he said.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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