WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – When it comes to the combustible issue of abortion, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley appears to be on a mission.
“We are not going to demonize this issue anymore. We’re going to humanize it because it’s too personal of an issue,” the former ambassador and former two-term South Carolina governor said Saturday in a Fox News Digital interview minutes before she headlined a town hall in the suburbs of Iowa’s capitol city.
That line echoes Haley’s statements on the issue from last month.
“We need to stop demonizing this issue,” Haley said in August at the first Republican debate, a Fox News hosted showdown last month in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “It’s personal for every woman and man.”
The blockbuster move last year by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn the landmark nearly half-century-old Roe v. Wade ruling, which had allowed for legalized abortions nationwide, moved the divisive issue back to the states.
And it’s forced Republicans to play plenty of defense in elections across the country, as a party that’s nearly entirely “pro-life” has had to deal with an electorate where a majority of Americans support at least some form of abortion access.
Haley, as she faces off against a dozen rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is pushing a message that she hope will resonate both with the GOP’s anti-abortion base as well as moderate Republicans and swing voters who support some degree of legalized abortion.
She’s also been critical — as witnessed in the first debate — of some of her rivals who are heavily advocating for a 15-week federal abortion ban.
“Our goal is to save as many babies as we can. Support as many moms as we can. That’s the goal. So in order to do that, we have to have 60 Senate votes. Let’s see where that is but we only have 45 pro-life senators,” Haley said on Saturday.
“So let’s focus on what we do agree on,” she said. “Let’s ban late-term abortions. Let’s encourage adoptions. Let’s make sure contraceptives accessible. Let’s make sure that nurses and doctors who don’t believe abortion don’t have to perform them. And let’s make sure no state law requires a women to go to jail or get the death penalty for abortion. We’re talking about hard truths and women around the country agree with me.”
Haley was interviewed at Jethro’s BBQ, a popular eatery with multiple locations in Iowa, the state whose caucuses kick off the GOP presidential nominating calendar.
And she spoke hours before she and most of the rest of the field of Republican presidential candidates attend the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual fall banquet, as the contenders each make their case to a large and influential crowd of social conservative leaders, activists, and Evangelical voters, who play an outsized role in Hawkeye State Republican politics.
Nicole Schlinger, a longtime Republican strategist in Iowa who’s well-connected to the social conservative community, said that former President Donald Trump’s “track record on issues concerning life is extremely good,” and that “it’s not surprising that there hasn’t been much change” when it comes to his large double-digit lead in the Iowa polls.
Trump remains the commanding front-runner in the latest polls in Iowa, the other early voting states, and especially in national surveys, as he runs a third striaght time for the White House.
But Schlinger added “I think there’s a path open for another candidate or two to perform well and exceed expectations in Iowa… The door’s open but someone needs to walk through it and that hasn’t happened yet.”
Pointing to Haley, she said “I think she has a great story to tell but she needs to clarify more what she said on that debate stage” regarding abortion.
Haley has enjoyed plenty of polling and fundraising momentum since her well-regarded performance in the first Republican presidential primary debate.
And in her first trip back to Iowa sine the debate showdown, she drew healthy crowds Friday at a couple of agriculture-themed events in eastern Iowa and a large crowd Saturday morning to her town hall in suburban Des Moines.
“We’ve seen hundreds of people come out. We love it. Iowa’s ready. They’re paying attention,” Haley spotlighted. “Momentum from the debate but they also like what we have to say and I’ve said for a long time – we have a country to save and I’m determined to do it and it all starts here in Iowa.”
Haley emphasized that “people are excited. They want something different. They want a new generational leader. They want to leave the chaos of the past and they want go forward and they’re tired of the fact that they just don’t feel like anyone’s listening. What we tell them is not only do we hear you, but we’re ready to get to work for you and I think that’s what the people of Iowa and that what the people around the country want.”
It’s expected for Haley to tout her momentum. But two well known GOP strategist in Iowa who are neutral in the 2024 nomination battle are also pointing to her upward trajectory.
“I think Ambassador Haley did herself a lot of favor. I think she’s in a really good spot,” longtime Iowa based Republican strategist and communicator Jimmy Centers said, as he pointed towards the first debate.
And David Kochel, a longtime Republican consultant and veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns in Iowa and nationally, said that “Nikki got the best bounce out of the debate. I’ve seen it in our internal data.”
“Maybe she’s in a dead heat with [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis,” Kochel said, before adding that “it’s still 25 points behind Trump.”