A debate between Haley and DeSantis could help determine a Republican alternative to Trump

WAUCIE, Iowa (AP) — After spending much of the Republican presidential primary surrounded by low-turnout contenders, Nikki Haley And Ron DeSantis will be alone Wednesday on the debate stage For the first time, they made an increasingly controversial push to become the primary alternative Donald Trump.

Former UN Ambassador Haley and Florida Governor DeSantis both have high stakes. They hope a strong debate showing in Iowa will boost their campaigns in the final days before Monday's caucuses, where a strong showing could provide much-needed momentum. campaign for the GOP presidential nomination intensifies.

The moment is particularly important for Haley, a politician long known for her disciplined approach to messaging. That reputation has been tested recently after a series of gaffes, including Failing to mention slavery It's a source of civil war and a joke that New Hampshire voters will get a chance to “correct” the results coming out of Iowa.

For all the attention on Haley and DeSantis, the race leader will again be absent. Trump, who is poised to quickly clinch his third consecutive GOP nomination, will skip the CNN-hosted debate and appear on Fox News instead.

The debate will give Haley one more chance to reset a campaign that has come under fresh scrutiny from everyone from her GOP rivals to the president. Joe Biden, A sign that her rivals in both parties see her as a rising contender. While he may focus more on Trump as his allies argue that he is the only person who can defeat him, DeSantis is expected to train his attention on Haley.

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“Now she's in a situation where she's under scrutiny, and it's like every day she's answering questions, there's something going on where she puts her foot in her mouth,” DeSantis told reporters after appearing in a Fox News town hall on Tuesday.

After several debates filled with candidates with little chance of winning the nomination, several expected caucuses said they planned to focus more closely on a debate featuring Trump's main opponents.

Terry Snyder of Waukee, outside Des Moines, said he caucused for Trump in 2016 but this time he had “a lot more baggage.” She wants to get a clear image without the cross section of a large stage.

“I'm aggravated because they talk to each other, so you don't learn anything,” Snyder said. “So hopefully it won't be like that with two people.”

Some of Haley's strongest moments have come during the previous four debates, as she has battled all her competitors on stage.

A CNN/UNH poll in New Hampshire this week suggested Haley may be closing in on Trump's top spot in the state. About 4 in 10 Republican primary voters in New Hampshire chose Trump, while a third chose Haley.

While she has fielded many questions at her campaign events over the months, including town halls where she entertains questions and answers from the assembled crowd, Haley rarely speaks after news conferences or print interviews after events covering her events. DeSantis did not speak to reporters after his own Fox News town hall on Monday, a day before his appearance.

Haley would say a day after his original Civil War comment that slavery was “certainly” a root cause. But she was repeatedly asked about the comment, giving her detractors more fodder.

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DeSantis quickly tried to turn some of Haley's words against him. He repeatedly made the point that New Hampshire would “fix” Iowa's results — something Haley later said was a joke about the rivalry between the two early voting states.

After being asked about Haley's Civil War speech at a CNN town hall last week, DeSantis' campaign moments later released a clip on X, noting “Day 9 of Nikki Haley trying to erase her Civil War,” and a quote from her response: “I had black friends growing up.”

During a Fox News town hall Monday night, another video slammed Haley for saying she “never once” said the retirement age was too low. DeSantis' video used a clip from Haley's August interview with Bloomberg, in which she said “65 is too low and we need to increase it.”

Haley accuses DeSantis of lying about her because she lost.

Trump has ramped up his attacks on Haley, and she is getting more attention, saying slavery was the “obvious answer” to the cause of the Civil War. In recent weeks, his campaign has accused him of not being conservative enough on immigration and, while serving as South Carolina's governor, for proposing to raise the state's gas tax as part of a broader budget package that was ultimately rejected.

And Biden has gone after her without mentioning her name. Appearing this week at a South Carolina church where a racist gunman killed nine black parishioners in 2015, he said: “For those who don't know, let me be clear: slavery was the cause of the Civil War. There is no negotiation about that,” he said.

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Experience taking hostile and sometimes hostile questions is essential for candidates running for the White House, said Dave Wilson, a conservative political and communications strategist in South Carolina.

“Candidates need to be prepared for the press' grill, especially in 2024 in today's media-driven political environment,” Wilson said. “When the cameras are always rolling, small gaffes can have a big impact on staying on the news.”

But some caucusgoers aren't worried that Haley's recent flubs or inconsistencies indicate a real problem.

“Yeah, she should have said slavery,” said Haley's supporter Clive Mike O'Neill, who waited to see her on a foggy Tuesday in Waukee. “But that question is a complex question, and he may have exaggerated and overstated the issues, because there were so many issues surrounding the Civil War. Slavery was a major issue.

Bill Kirk, a retired carpenter from Linden, Iowa, said Haley's comment “makes no sense to me.”

“I think he's doing a lot better than a lot of people thought,” he said. “I don't really know what the difference is between her and DeSantis. His are the only ads I've seen. He doesn't seem to have the energy she has.

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