Nikki Haley has dropped out of a debate before the crucial New Hampshire Republican primary contest, saying she would only take part if Donald Trump did.
The former US ambassador to the United Nations finished third in the snow-covered Iowa caucuses on Monday, a couple of points behind Florida governor Ron DeSantis but well behind the former president.
Mr Trump has skipped every Republican primary debate so far, saying he would only take to the stage against a rival who was close to him in the polls in the contest to take on Democrat President Joe Biden in November’s election.
However, some recent polls put Mrs Haley just single digits behind Mr Trump – or neck and neck – in New Hampshire, giving hope to her campaign that she can mount a meaningful challenge going forward.
New Hampshire’s electorate is less religiously conservative and less rural than in Iowa – factors that helped Mr Trump in the caucuses there.
If Mr DeSantis and Mrs Haley cannot capitalise on those differences in the state, Mr Trump’s momentum could make the rest of the Republican primary calendar little more than a formality. No Republican has ever lost the party’s nomination after winning both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Mrs Haley, trying to secure the Republican nomination from a party dominated by Mr Trump’s supporters, has sought to build a wide coalition of voters.
She has put a big focus on New Hampshire and will hope it can be a springboard to the contest in her home state primary next month, in South Carolina.
Kristen Mansharamani, an independent voter from Lincoln, New Hampshire, said she has never considered backing Mr Trump in 2024 and would back Mrs Haley.
“I told my 12-year-old son that I am looking for the person who I think is going to get rid of some of the standstill and the polarisation in politics and I think she can do that better than anyone else out there right now,” the 48-year-old said.
Mrs Haley leaned directly into New Hampshire’s reputation for independence, launching a state-wide television ad on Tuesday morning that hit both Mr Trump and Joe Biden ahead of her arrival in the state.
“The two most disliked politicians in America,” the ad calls them, painting the 81-year-old president and 77-year-old former president together as being “consumed by chaos, negativity and grievance of the past”.