NEWBERRY, South Carolina – Despite losses in early primaries and low poll numbers in her home state, Nikki Haley projected confidence and determination during her “Beast of the Southeast” bus tour in South Carolina, holding four rallies in two days earlier this month and attacking both President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump as too old to govern.

“This is about the fact that we are going to have a female president of the United States, and either it will be me or it will be [Vice President] Kamala Harris,” Haley, 52, the Indian-American former governor and United Nations ambassador, said during a Feb. 10 rally in the small town of Newberry, S.C.

This week, Haley gave a speech during which she vowed to stay in the race “until the last person votes.”

Her performance in South Carolina’s presidential primary on Saturday could foreshadow the next contest in Michigan just three days later, as well as the upcoming Super Tuesday contests on March 5.

Haley is scheduled to campaign in Troy on Sunday night and Grand Rapids on Monday ahead of Michigan’s primary on Tuesday. She’s also running an ad in Michigan and this week announced her leadership team in the state.

“Michiganders are looking for a leader who’s no-nonsense and focused on the issues that matter to their communities, not chaos and self-inflicted drama,” said state Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills), a member of the leadership team. “Nikki Haley has the vision and the drive to take our nation forward and will set the tone at the top.”

Despite back-to-back losses in Iowa or New Hampshire, Haley has reasons to stay in the race as the last Republican left standing against Trump. Haley’s support among college-educated Republicans was strong and growing, according to national polling by 538 over the last year. Haley also received more support than Trump from college-educated, independent and moderate voters, according to a CNN exit poll of the New Hampshire primary.

Additionally, Trump’s legal woes have provided Haley with a glimmer of hope that she could somehow win the nomination. He faces 91 charges across four criminal cases, and has already lost civil cases that could cost him more than $500 million.

“She firmly feels that she’s going to outwork Donald Trump here. She has the momentum behind her, and she’s going to keep rolling up with this and show you through the White House,” said Morgan Viña during the Feb. 10 rally. Viña was Haley’s former chief of staff in the United States Mission to the United Nations.

While knocking on doors in South Carolina earlier this month, Viña heard many independents and swing voters say they view Haley as the new generational leadership.

“They welcome a fresh face, someone who is not an octogenarian,” Viña said. “And as a result, they’re supporting Nikki.”

Jordan Ragusa and Gibbs Knotts, political science professors at College of Charleston, wrote about the “momentum effect” in their book “First in the South,” meaning that candidates who exceed expectations in early states increase their chances in later states due their perceived viability. Ragusa said they saw “clear momentum effects” on the Haley data.

“What we’ve shown is that a candidate does well in South Carolina, also does well in the Super Tuesday states. So it’s possible that a good showing, even if she loses in South Carolina, could keep her on the ballot, and those states could keep the donations coming in,” Ragusa said in an interview.

The latest polling numbers from Morning Consult shows that 68% of potential Republican primary voters in South Carolina support Trump, while 31% support Haley. In Michigan, Haley only received 19%, compared with 79% of potential Republican voters who support Trump.

During the rally in Newberry earlier this month, over 100 supporters clad in pink feather boas and beaded necklaces gathered while holding “Pick Nikki” signs. As Haley’s bus slowly pulled in front of the crowded Newberry Opera House, people shouted her name and took pictures from dozens of cell phones.

Mindy Ellmer, a member of the Women for Haley coalition, traveled to multiple campaign events throughout the early primary states.

“After New Hampshire, we hosted two events in Texas. And between Monday and Thursday, our RSVP numbers went up instead of down,” said Ellmer, whose home is Austin, Texas.

Ellmer said that Haley differentiates herself from other candidates because she is ready to take a new way to unite this country. She said she loves Haley’s character, foreign policy and leadership experience.

“She’s relatable in a way that it feels tangible,” said Ellmer.

Steve Wilson, a member of the Newberry Republican Party, recognized Haley as a candidate who could offer a change to the country.

“I think she would be able to bridge that link between partisan politics and doing things that are right for the country, not what’s right for the party,” Wilson said.

A few hours drive away, in the state’s largest city, Charleston, Haley’s experience as governor and a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. had earned her support among some college students.

Mary-Price Wood, a senior communications major at the College of Charleston, praised Haley’s performance during her time as the state’s governor. She thinks it would be “awesome” if Haley pushed through and became the first female president in the country. She said her more moderate position on reproductive rights wins her support among young voters.

“I think for her to kind of be less conservative with it is very important,” Wood said about Haley’s position on abortion.

However, Haley pledged to sign a federal abortion ban last year, which could be consequential in Michigan, where voters in 2022 chose to protect the right to abortion in the state constitution. Haley also delivered a policy speech last year calling on a more conservative consensus on abortion.

“I believe every life is a blessing from God,” said Haley in the speech. “My heart hurts when someone decides not to go through with a pregnancy.”

As the state legislator, Haley voted for every anti-abortion bill that came before her and she said that she would fight to restrict abortions as president, according to the speech.

After an Alabama Supreme Court ruling this week that frozen embryos are considered children, Haley said in an interview with NBC News that “embryos, to me, are babies.”

“When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that’s a life. And so I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that,” she added.

Matthew Malone, a political science and homeland security professor at Lander University, said that Haley’s real potential is among moderates, which would likely keep her in the race until Michigan.

“Many people who typically would have voted for, or voted, in the Democratic primary are considering voting in the Republican primary for Nikki Haley in an attempt to hopefully slow down, or maybe even defeat Donald Trump,” Malone said.

Ragusa said that Haley sticks around because she wants to save her image for the 2028 presidential election.

“Donald Trump, should he win, would be term-limited. You would not be able to run again. Republicans then in 2028, would not need to find a candidate. And Haley maybe wants to burnish her credentials and remain the presumptive next individual in line,” Ragusa said.

However, Haley must try not to draw the ire of Trump’s backers if she hopes to come back in 2028.

“Haley has a conservative enough policies to appeal to that base, but is it going to somehow be personal, where the Trump voters won’t forgive, because she stayed in and challenged him?” Knotts said. “And is she going to make them so mad and be so vilified?”

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