By Richard Cowan and Gram Slattery

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley brings her nascent campaign to New Hampshire on Thursday, as the former U.N. ambassador seeks to boost her national profile and build momentum in a state that plays a key role in picking presidents.

Haley this week became just the second major Republican to say she is seeking the party’s presidential nomination in 2024, taking on her old boss former President Donald Trump. The 51-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants held her first campaign event on Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina.

As that state’s former governor, serving from 2011 to 2017, she was met with a warm welcome in front of a familiar crowd, but will face a new test in New Hampshire, which is expected to host the first Republican primary of the 2024 campaign.

“She was in front of a good, hometown crowd … The question is whether she will be able to carry that momentum into states where she is not as well known, places like Iowa and New Hampshire,” said Rob Godfrey, a Republican strategist who served as Haley’s deputy chief of staff when she was governor.

Trump won the New Hampshire primary in 2016, setting the stage for his successful first campaign, and easily won the nomination a second time in 2020 before losing his reelection bid to Democrat Joe Biden.

But voters in the state also have repeatedly reelected Republican Governor Chris Sununu, a far more moderate voice than Trump’s, and in November rejected hard-right Republican U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc.

Haley will appear at an evening town hall event in Exeter, about 45 miles (70 km) north of Boston in southern New Hampshire.

In the first days of her campaign, Haley has stressed the need for generational change. Trump is 76, and Biden, who is expected to seek reelection but has not officially launched a campaign, is 80.

Haley has also pointed to her time as U.N. ambassador under Trump from 2017 to 2018 as proof she can stand up to geopolitical foes, including China and Russia.

She has her work cut out for her. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that just 4% of registered Republicans supported the former governor for president.

Trump received support from 43% of registered Republicans in the poll conducted from Feb. 6-13, while 31% said they supported Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to launch a campaign but has not yet done so.

The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary have traditionally been the first two events of the U.S. presidential nominating season.

Democrats this year have voted to bypass those two states, which are less diverse than the nation at large, in favor of kicking off in South Carolina. Republicans plan to stick to the traditional path.

Next week, Haley will head to Iowa for a pair of campaign stops.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington, and Gram Slattery in Charleston, S.C.; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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