Nikki Haley is trying to break the highest glass ceiling in politics, but you won’t hear her say so – at least not directly.

She does, however, offer fleeting glimpses at the historic nature of her Republican presidential campaign.

“There are no saints in DC right now, but that’s why I think you need a badass woman in charge at the White House,” the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador said with a smile in the closing moments of a stop here Wednesday night, answering a voter’s question about criminal charges facing some politicians in Washington.

With the first votes of the Republican presidential primary barely a month away, Haley is drawing larger crowds – and louder applause – from voters like Thalia Floras, who has been eagerly searching for an alternative to former President Donald Trump.

“It would be great to have a female president, but that is not what this is about,” said Floras, a Nashua resident who has surveyed several candidates during their visits to New Hampshire. “I think we’re past the point of talking about that. It’s about the strongest candidate, and she, right now in the Republican Party, is the strongest candidate.”

Of course, not all of Haley’s supporters are women. And not all Republican women are supporting Haley, considering most polls show that Trump still receives a strong majority of support across all demographic groups.

But the makeup of Haley’s crowds is often distinct from those of her rivals, with audiences that include mothers bringing their daughters to see the candidate and older women hoping to see presidential history made in their lifetimes.

Helene Haggar, a retired financial adviser, is blunt about her feeling that it’s beyond time for the United States to elect a woman president.

“It’s time to get the testosterone out of the White House and put a woman in there — but a specific woman. Not Kamala Harris, but Nikki Haley,” said Haggar, who wore a blue shirt emblazoned with a message “Sometimes it takes a woman.”

Haggar received the shirt from the Haley campaign months ago after she sent in a modest contribution to support her candidacy. She beamed as she watched Haley at a Manchester event earlier this week and said she admired her strength and intelligence above all.

“She has a very practical side to her, and she doesn’t have drama as our previous president had,” Haggar said. “There have been plenty other countries that have had female leaders. Why not here?”

That question is one Haley seldom addresses, at least overtly, as she repeatedly makes a point of rejecting identity politics and walking a fine line when mentioning gender.

Yet she often wields it as a humorous shield, as she did during the fourth Republican debate earlier this month in Alabama.

As her rivals fired off sharp lines of criticism, particularly about her donors, she replied: “I love all the attention, fellas. Thank you for that.”

She deployed a similar line here Wednesday night when asked about her views on abortion. While she opposes abortion rights, she describes the issue as deeply personal and talks about it with far more nuance than most Republican presidential candidates.

“When it comes to abortion,” Haley said, “I don’t think the fellas know how to talk about it properly.”

After GOP rival Vivek Ramaswamy took aim at her hawkish views during a November debate in Miami, calling her “Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels,” she snapped back with a smile: “5-inch heels, and I don’t wear them unless you can run in them.”

Haley is only the fifth major female candidate to seek the Republican presidential nomination.

She follows Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, who ran in 2016, and Michele Bachmann, a former Minnesota congresswoman, who ran in 2012. Elizabeth Dole briefly sought the presidency in the 2000 cycle and Margaret Chase Smith, a Maine senator, in 1964.

Images of Democrat Hillary Clinton, the only woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination, have recently been used in the 2024 campaign as a hammer against Haley. A super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is airing television ads – widely debunked as misleading – that suggest Haley drew inspiration to run for office from Clinton.

At campaign rallies for Haley, which always end with the candidate shaking hands as Sheryl Crow’s upbeat rendition of “Woman in the White House” plays on loudspeakers, more than two dozen women in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have described Haley in similar ways in recent weeks.

“She’s smart, she’s tough, and she’s passionate,” Jane Barth, an Iowa Republican, told CNN after watching Haley at a barbecue restaurant in West Des Moines.

“She’s level-headed and speaks to the issues, rather than a lot of rhetoric,” said Debra Hutton, a South Carolina Republican, who saw Haley during a rally in Bluffton late last month.

“I like her values, her morals and her level of experience,” said Camille Prince, who moved to South Carolina after Haley had left the governor’s office. “I am new to South Carolina, but she’s my girl now.”

Haley is on a quest to draw suburban women back to the Republican Party after so many fled during the Trump era. Her support among women is a leading reason that polls show her faring far better in a hypothetical head-to-head contest with President Joe Biden, a point that she repeatedly makes to amplify her electability.

First, though, she must win the primary, which remains an uphill battle, given Trump’s dominance in the race.

As the final chapter of the Republican race comes into sharper view, Haley now rarely repeats a rallying cry from her campaign announcement early this year when she declared: “May the best woman win.” And she also rarely reprises one of her applause lines from the first debate: “If you want something done, ask a woman.”

How Haley balances gender resonates with Erin Jorgensen, an engineer and space physicist, who brought one of her three daughters to see the former governor at a campaign event this week in Manchester.

“I appreciate the fact that she doesn’t use it as a crutch,” Jorgensen said. “Oftentimes, people think, ‘Oh, they’re just going to vote for her because she’s a woman’ or ‘She’s only in this position because she’s a woman.’”

But Jorgensen said she believed it was beyond time for the country to elect a qualified woman to the presidency.

“Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for you. You have to be the right person, and I’m happy that maybe the right person is finally a woman,” Jorgensen said as Haley shook hands nearby. “I brought my daughter here because I hope someday, maybe she can say, ‘Hey’ – to her grandkids – ‘I met her. I met her when she was the first female president of the United States.’”

  1. Source: CNN


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