Former South Carolina governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley came to Georgia Friday to stump for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and GOP Senate hopeful Herschel Walker in separate metro Atlanta campaign stops.
The visit from the potential 2024 presidential contender is likely to be the first of many involving big names in national politics heading into the Nov. 8 election.
“I imagine that we are going to have not only Nikki Haley, we’re going to have others,” said Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University. “(Former president Donald) Trump supposedly has announced he’s going to come to Georgia, I imagine that either the president or vice president or both will be coming to Georgia, as well as other big names on the Democratic side. I think we’re going to see a lot of that.”
“People should get ready for even more attention and even more ads as we get closer,” she added.
Haley traveled first to the Global Mall in Norcross, where she was joined by Walker and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, before heading to Atlanta’s iconic Varsity restaurant for lunch with Kemp.
But it wasn’t just chili dogs and frosted oranges the pair had on their minds. Haley, South Carolina’s first female governor, is hoping to thwart the ambitions of Democrat Stacey Abrams to earn that distinction in Georgia.
“It’s a no-brainer for me to be here in Georgia because I know what the opposition is,” Haley said. “I know the fact that if it’s not Brian Kemp, then Georgians are going to see tax hikes Georgians are going to see softening on crime. Georgians are going to see more wasteful spending. Georgians are going to see more mandates and regulations. That’s not the people of Georgia.”
An Aug. 31 poll from TargetSmart puts Kemp at 48% of the vote to Abrams’ 46%. Other polls show Kemp leading by an average of about 5.5%.
“This just shows y’all that Republicans are uniting, we have the best message, we have the best record,” Kemp said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about in Georgia, that’s what we’re going to continue to talk about. So we’re excited for the next 60 days or so as we count down to Nov. 8. But it’s like I tell people every day, we’re in a fight for the soul of our state, to make sure Stacey Abrams is not going to be our governor or our next president. And we’re gonna work hard all the way to Nov. 8, to make sure that we fulfill that.”
Abrams and her fellow Democrats have been targeting Kemp on the closure of hospitals, including the recently announced plans to shutter WellStar Atlanta Medical Center in the state’s capital city, as well as his support for anti-abortion policies.
“Kemp has repeatedly refused to answer critical questions on how his extreme ban could lead to investigations of women and prosecutions of doctors for seeking and providing abortion care — and Georgians deserve answers,” Max Flugrath, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement Friday.
With the U.S. Senate evenly split, both parties are set to pull out all the stops in the final stretch of 2022 and beyond, and politicians eying the presidency are likely already jotting down lists of potential campaign stops in the Peach State.
“The Republicans are having their own jockeying about who’s going to be running, there some rumblings of Trump running again, but there’s also a sort of much louder chorus of people who are making it kind of clear that they are either waiting in the wings, or are going to challenge no matter what, and so I think that’s where Nikki Haley comes down, I think we’ll probably see (Florida governor) Ron DeSantis and others that are looking forward to 2024,” Steigerwalt said.
Haley has said that she is considering a run for the White House in two years.
“I’m just saying, sometimes it takes a woman,” she told Fox News Sunday last month. “As Margaret Thatcher said, ‘if you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.’ We should not take our eyes off of 2022. If we don’t win in 2022, there won’t be a 2024, so we need to stay humble, disciplined and win that, and then if there’s a place for me, I’ve never lost a race, I’m not going to start now. We’ll see what happens and we’ll go forward.”
The lay of the 2024 Republican landscape depends largely on Trump, who is reportedly considering taking another stab at the presidency as he faces multiple investigations into his conduct following the 2020 election.
Like Kemp, Haley has been in and out of the former president’s graces.
It was Trump who helped Kemp clinch the GOP nomination in 2018, and Trump who sent Haley to the UN the year before.
Kemp fell out of Trump’s favor after he refused to illegally overturn the results of Georgia’s election, and Haley has been critical of the president’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
“We need to acknowledge he let us down,” she told Politico last year. “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”
Trump propped up former U.S. Sen. David Perdue as a primary challenger to Kemp, a challenge the governor easily overcame. A proxy war played out in South Carolina this summer, when Haley-endorsed U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace defeated the former president’s chosen candidate in that state’s Republican primary.
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