Nikki Haley vs Donald Trump: Why the New Hampshire primary matters

New Hampshire could present Haley with her best chance to beat Trump by building support among unregistered voters.

Republican contender Nikki Haley hopes to challenge former US President Donald Trump’s frontrunner status as the party’s nominee in the 2024 election as voters in New Hampshire head to polling stations on Tuesday, kicking off the year’s primary election calendar.

Trump is going into the primary as the favourite after scoring a resounding victory in last week’s Iowa caucus. New Hampshire is holding the first primary of the 2024 election calendar, with Republican, Democratic as well as independent voters set to exercise their ballots to decide their candidate for the presidential election due in November.

Incumbent President Joe Biden, who finished fifth in the 2020 New Hampshire primary, has decided to skip this year. His supporters can still vote for him by writing in his name on the ballot.

Here is what you need to know about the New Hampshire primary — and why it matters.

When is the New Hampshire primary and how does it work?

Registered Republicans and Democrats can vote in their respective primaries. Independent voters can also cast their vote in New Hampshire by requesting for either ballot. Delegates elected in primaries, which are organised by political parties, vote in the respective party convention to choose their presidential candidate.

Voters will have from about 7am to 7pm ET (12:00 GMT to 00:00 GMT) to cast their private ballot at their polling station. Polling stations include town halls and school campuses all over the state, based on the voters’ cities and streets of residence. The last polls in the state close at 8pm ET (01:00 GMT).

Those eligible to cast their ballot in the primary include voters who would be 18 years old by the November election.

Results could be released as early as Tuesday night. However, there could be delays for several reasons, including that Democratic voters have to write in Biden’s name on the ballot.

Is Haley leading the polls in New Hampshire?

No, Trump is still leading the polls by a wide margin over Haley.

According to polling and analysis website 538, Trump leads the Republican field in New Hampshire, with an average of 52 percent of likely primary voters planning to cast a ballot for the former president. Haley is in second with nearly 37 percent support.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who dropped out of the race on Sunday, had about 5 percent of support according to polls. He has since endorsed Trump, and if his supporters vote for Trump, that could further strengthen the chances of the real estate developer-turned-politician.

Polls have shown DeSantis’s supporters are more likely to switch their support to Trump than Haley. Still, DeSantis’s exit does open up an opportunity for Haley, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, to try to tap his voters who want to turn the page on Trump and install a new generation of leadership.

The state offers Haley an opportunity to position herself as a Republican candidate who could take on Trump since New Hampshire’s conservative voters lean more moderate than in many other parts of the country. She is also endorsed by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.

Since unregistered voters can participate, Haley can also tap into the voter base that wishes to vote for a centrist candidate. Independent or unaffiliated voters make up 39 percent of the voters in New Hampshire.

What would a win mean for Trump or Haley?

While the primary will provide Trump with an opportunity to underscore his dominance of the  Republican race, it also gives challenger Haley a shot to show that Trump can be vulnerable.

If Haley wins, she could proceed to the South Carolina primary as a viable Trump alternative, making the argument to the Republican voter base that she represents the future of the party and Trump the past.

The contest between Trump and Haley is expected to be closer than the result in Iowa last week. Trump beat Haley, and DeSantis, by 30 percentage points in the state’s caucuses.

Why is Biden not on the ballot?

The US president did not register for the primary after New Hampshire lawmakers refused the Democratic Party’s demand that the state cede its first-in-the-nation spot in the presidential primary calendar.

In February 2023, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) opted to have South Carolina as the venue for its first primary scheduled for February 24, breaking a 100-year tradition of New Hampshire being the first state for primaries. South Carolina is the state where Biden turned around his 2020 campaign, after early losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, to eventually emerge as the party’s nominee.

Biden can still win the New Hampshire primary if his write-in votes exceed the registered candidates’ votes.

Despite inconsistent polling, it is clear that Biden leads the Democratic polls. Jim Demers, one of the organisers of the Biden write-in campaign said he has seen polls that range from less than 50 percent to 60 percent of the vote for Biden, who has angered Democrats in New Hampshire after he decided to opt out of the primary.

New Hampshire presents an opportunity for Biden’s Democrat challengers to prove there is an appetite among voters to replace the party’s incumbent.

Which Democrats and Republicans are expected on the ballot?

Republicans: There are 24 names on the ballot, but Trump remains the most popular, followed by Haley. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is also on the ballot, though he ended his 2024 campaign, endorsing Trump on Sunday. Names of other candidates who have dropped out are also on the ballot, including Chris Christie, Asa Hutchinson, and Vivek Ramaswamy.

Democrats: There are 21 names are on the ballot, including US Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota and self-help guru Marianne Williamson.

What’s at stake?

After the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that the New Hampshire primary will not count and the delegates will not be claimed by the winner, the primary will serve purely as a barometer of support for the Democrats in the race. The state will send 33 delegates to the DNC, but their vote will not be bound by the primary results because of the dispute.

On the Republican side, 22 delegates to the Republican National Convention are up for grabs and will be awarded on a proportional basis.

This is not a large number considering 1,215 delegates are needed to clinch the nomination. Still, New Hampshire has traditionally played an outsize role in the nomination process because of its early spot on the calendar.

How is this different from the Iowa caucuses?

The New Hampshire event is just a primary election where voters have all day to cast their private ballot at their polling station. People can also vote by mail subject to conditions.

The event in Iowa, by contrast, was a meeting organised by parties where voters carried out discussions and had to show up at a particular time. No postal ballot is allowed in a caucus.

The Democrats did not cast their ballots at all in Iowa, but they are voting in New Hampshire.

INTERACTIVE US Elections Key dates for the 2024 presidential race-1705378822

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies