WASHINGTON--The conservative U.S. political network led by billionaire Charles Koch on Tuesday endorsed Nikki Haley for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, giving the former South Carolina governor a boost among party rivals struggling to make a dent against frontrunner Donald Trump.
The influential group, which pushes for tax cuts and less government regulation, has made clear that beating former President Trump in the Republican nominating contest is a top priority, arguing that he would lose the November election to President Joe Biden. The Democrat beat incumbent Trump in the 2020 White House race. In addition to controlling tens of millions of dollars for campaign spending, the Koch-affiliated Super PAC known as Americans for Prosperity Action, or AFP Action, has thousands of staffers throughout the country who will now promote Haley among potential voters. Among Haley's main weaknesses, according to her campaign operatives, has been a relatively underdeveloped network of campaign workers and allies in the early voting state of Iowa. It is far from clear that the AFP endorsement will be a game changer, given that Trump leads his Republican rivals by more than 40 points in most national polls. About 10% of Republican primary voters support Haley, according to a polling average maintained by poll-tracking website FiveThirtyEight. But the endorsement could tip the scales in favour of Haley in a tight battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the No. 2 slot. Around 13% of primary voters support DeSantis, according to FiveThirtyEight. It could also help her persuade other major donors to get behind her. Many big-dollar donors have been considering supporting Haley for months, but have held off amid concerns she is simply too far behind Trump. "The Kochs have a tremendous following," said Texas-based Republican donor Fred Zeidman, a top Haley fundraiser. The group said its internal polling indicates Haley is in the best position to defeat Trump in the Republican primary. It also "consistently shows" that Haley is the strongest candidate by far to beat Biden in a general election, it said. "We would support a candidate capable of turning the page on Washington's toxic culture – and a candidate who can win. And last night, we concluded that analysis," AFP Action said in a statement. DeSantis supporters have disputed those assertions, saying he is better positioned to siphon supporters away from Trump than Haley is. Haley is beating DeSantis, however, in some of the states that are first to select a Republican nominee. "Every dollar spent on Nikki Haley's candidacy should be reported as an in-kind to the Trump campaign," DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo wrote on X on Tuesday.