Who is Nikki Haley, the Republican presidential candidate rising in the polls?

Former South Carolina governor is gaining support but still way behind Trump in the contest for the Republican nomination to run for the White House

Who is Nikki Haley and why is she in the news?

Nikki Haley is a former governor of South Carolina and US ambassador to the United Nations under the Trump administration. Viewed once as one of also-rans in the crowded field for the Republican Party nomination to run for the White House next year, she has been rising in the polls after a number of strong performances in debates. Some surveys have her in second place, others have put her in third place behind Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

But is Donald Trump not way out in front?

Yes. By a mile. The average of polls taken up to the first week in December have Trump leading by nearly 50 points. At this moment he is the clear favourite to be the Republican nominee in the presidential election.

So why does it matter that Haley’s poll numbers are rising?

Up to now pollsters were asking people who they might vote for. By the middle of January, people will actually start making real choices. First up will be the Republican caucus in Iowa to be followed shortly afterwards by the primary election in New Hampshire.

And history shows that there can be big shifts that can really shake up the overall contest. In 2008, John McCain was on 18 per cent going into New Hampshire; he won with 37 per cent. In 2012 in Iowa, Rick Santorum had 5 per cent in advance of the caucus; he won with 25 per cent.

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How could things shake up?

Iowa has a sizeable conservative and evangelical cohort of voters. And DeSantis is running to the right of Trump – highlighting, for example, his six-week abortion ban in Florida. If DeSantis does not do well in Iowa, his campaign could be in significant trouble. If Haley holds her own, she would have momentum going into New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina where she is ahead of the Florida governor but behind Trump.

If the wind fills the sails of the Haley campaign, the former New Jersey governor Chris Christie – who has based his campaign around attacking Trump – could come under pressure to drop out.

Haley and Christie will be fishing in largely the same pond for voters in New Hampshire.

Haley, ultimately, could be the last candidate left standing to oppose Trump in later primary elections across the US.

Is the Haley campaign now receiving more support from donors?

As support for Haley’s campaign increased, she has come under fire from most of the other Republican candidates. However, at the same time big donors are moving in her direction.

Late last month, the boss of the biggest bank on Wall Street backed Haley.

“Even if you’re a very liberal Democrat, I urge you, help Nikki Haley, too,” Jamie Dimon, the chief of JPMorgan Chase, said.

Subsequently one of the biggest Democrat funders Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, gave $250,000 to a group supporting the former South Carolina governor.

Haley also received backing from the right. The political organisation established by billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch last week formally endorsed her bid for the presidency.

“Our internal polling consistently shows that Nikki Haley is by far the strongest candidate Republicans could put up against Joe Biden in a general election – winning every key battleground state and up nationally by nearly 10 points. While our polling shows Donald Trump loses to Joe Biden, Nikki Haley outperforms Trump by eight to 14 points in the key presidential battleground states.

So what does Haley stand for?

Haley is a spending hawk. She has said she would veto any budget proposals that increased expenditure above pre-Covid levels. But she has also included Trump in her criticism of political leaders who increased the US debt levels.

She has also supported the US using special forces to attack drug cartels across the Mexican borders.

Haley, who was born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa to Indian parents living in South Carolina, has argued that more recent immigrants who came to the US unlawfully under the Biden administration should be deported. She has drawn parallels with her parents who legally entered the country.

She has also argued that the US should not be relying on China for any products that are important for national security.

Perhaps her strongest argument to Republican voters is that polls suggest she would beat Biden in the presidential election.