By James Oliphant, Gram Slattery
DES MOINES/SIOUX CITY, Iowa (Reuters) -Nikki Haley gave Iowa voters some tough talk on Friday over their scrambled eggs and sausage.
It was Haley’s first campaign stop of 2024 in Iowa with only 10 days to go before the Republican Party’s first-in-the nation presidential nominating contest there, and it came after rival Ron DeSantis has been in the state for days.
Speaking to the Rotary Club in Des Moines, Haley, who served as United Nations ambassador under former President Donald Trump, urged Republicans in attendance to support her interventionist views on foreign policy.
She said that meant sending weapons to Ukraine, supporting Israel in its war with Hamas and standing up to China over fentanyl. It meant modernizing the U.S. military by focusing on artificial intelligence and hypersonic missiles, she added.
“China, Russia and Iran are bound together in an unholy alliance,” Haley said. “We can take them on, but you don’t do it by putting your head in the sand.”
Haley’s foreign policy views diverge from that of Trump, her now-rival in the Republican primary race, and to some extent DeSantis, both of whom favor a scaled-back role for the U.S. in global affairs.
Polls have shown Trump with a sizeable lead over DeSantis and Haley ahead of the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15. All three candidates are campaigning in the Midwest state over the weekend.
Haley pointed to opinion polls that show her soundly beating Democratic President Joe Biden in a head-to-head match-up, and she contended that she could lead a conservative wave down the ballot.
“Do you know what that does? That’s bigger than the presidency,” she said. “That’s all the way down to the school board.”
Two Republicans at the breakfast said in interviews that they were undecided in the race but were now considering backing Haley.
“This helped,” said Dan Keller, 69, a small business owner from Des Moines, who said he had supported Trump in the past but was now deciding between Haley and DeSantis. “Trump-Biden is a losing battle in my opinion, and she has the statistics to show that she could be the person to beat Biden.”
Chris McLinden, 64, of Adel, Iowa, the president of a recruiting firm, praised Haley’s background in national security.
“She’s pragmatic. I like the fact that she seems fresh on the stage,” McLinden said. “Who better to execute foreign policy than Nikki Haley, in my opinion?”
Here is another takeaway from the campaign trail:
BATTLE FOR VP?
In a contest with such a clear frontrunner, Trump’s rivals are often asked whether they would be willing to serve as his vice president, and if they are only in the contest to eventually be his running mate.
DeSantis has ruled out being the former president’s No. 2. But Haley has repeatedly refused to reject a possible Trump-Haley ticket.
Why? In an interview on Thursday with the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper, she said doing so would make that “the news for days” and stop her momentum.
“It’s highly offensive to think I would go through all of this to run for vice president,” Haley said. “I am fighting to become president and I’m going to win.”
Haley is polling in second place behind Trump ahead of New Hampshire’s Jan. 23 primary.
Trump, when asked by NBC’s “Meet the Press” in September whether he was leaning toward picking a woman to be his VP, said, “I like the concept, but we’re going to pick the best person.”
(Reporting by James Oliphant, Gram Slattery and Costas Pitas; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Daniel Wallis)