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Nikki Haley stumps in Stamford as she works to rally support for presidential bid

Nikki Haley stumps in Stamford May 31, 2023, working to rally support for presidential bid. (Eddy Martinez/Connecticut Public)
Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
Nikki Haley, who received some of the night's biggest applause after digging into cultural grievances speaks at the Stamford Hilton, May 31, 2023.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley stopped by Stamford on Wednesday in a bid to shore up support for her campaign with the state’s Republican Party.

Haley stepped up to the podium at the Stamford Hilton Hotel dining hall to rapturous applause.

“You know how to make a South Carolina girl feel good, that's for sure,” Haley said.

Republicans, according to Haley, need to be more focused on substantive issues. The dinner occurred as state GOP leaders and Haley were outwardly eager to distance themselves from the more extremist elements of the party, even as her conservative opinions on cultural issues received some of the biggest applause that night.

But while Haley received a warm reception in Stamford, her campaign has suffered from low poll numbers.

Haley mentioned her bonafides as the former governor of South Carolina.

“We took our 11% unemployment rate down to 4%,” she said. “We announced jobs in every county of the state, we took 35,000 people off of welfare, and we put them to work.”

She paced around the podium, admonishing the national party for being unable to win past presidential elections with the popular vote. She said people of color can be reached, saying they and Republicans have a lot in common on issues like education.

But some of the biggest applause came after she dug into cultural grievances, from criticism of critical race theory (a theoretical framework that focuses on racism’s role in American society) to transgender participation in sports.

“We have biological boys playing in girls sports,” Haley said. “It is the women's issue of our time. Where is everybody?”

Haley’s political positions are broadly similar to other Republican candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, although Haley said she would focus on trying to return coronavirus relief funds and lower spending.

Other Republican speakers, such as Toni Boucher, a former state senator, echoed Haley’s comments that the state GOP needed to back more palatable candidates, citing the Democrats’ advantage in Connecticut.

“We need to start winning again in Connecticut by getting behind winnable candidates," Boucher said. "I'm thinking right now of [Haley] as the landscape and registration in Connecticut has changed drastically. You all know this. But it is a reality that our party must come to terms with.”

Their messaging appears to have resonated with the crowd. One attendee, John Redmond, tried to get a photo with Haley as she mingled with supporters and well wishers. But Redmond wasn’t able to get a photo because Haley walked out of the dining hall.

Presidential candidate Nikki Haley talks with Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Ben Proto during Haley’s campaign stop in Stamford May 31, 2023.
Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
Presidential candidate Nikki Haley talks with Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Ben Proto during Haley’s campaign stop in Stamford May 31, 2023.

Redmond said he would still vote for Haley, citing her life story and political positions. But Trump still has a hold on many Republicans, which Redmond acknowledged.

“I think Trump has an allure to a large part of the Republican base, but you don't win elections with the Republican base,” Redmond said.

Other GOP voters such as Joe Pinion, who ran against Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer in New York last year, said many Republican candidates and those considering a run largely agree on the same things, from a more nationalist foreign policy to criticism of liberal cultural values.

Republican voters, he said, are going to be more concerned with a candidate’s personal pitch rather than if they’ll move away from Trump’s policies.

“What people have not necessarily clearly articulated, why are you the sole choice? Why is it that you are the best choice to put the America First policies in action,” Pinion said.

And Connecticut Democrats agree. Connecticut Democratic Party Chair Nancy DiNardo sharply criticized Haley in a statement released after her visit.

DiNardo characterized Haley as a political opportunist, citing her criticism then embrace of Trump.

“Republican candidates like Nikki Haley will stop at nothing to appeal to the most extreme fringes of their party. In their desperation to prove they can be the most MAGA candidate in history, candidates like Haley have already shown Connecticut voters exactly who they are.”

Corrected: June 2, 2023 at 9:15 AM EDT
A previous version of this story said Toni Boucher was former chair of the state Republican Party. She is a former state senator.

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