DemDaily: Haley and DeSantis: The Race for Second Place

January 12, 2024

Former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis went toe-to-toe before Iowa voters Wednesday night in the fifth Republican presidential debate.

The two-hour slugfest, held at Drake University in Des Moines, was the final showdown before the state's caucuses kick off the 2024 nominating contest Monday.

The only two candidates to meet host CNN's 10% polling threshold, Haley and DeSantis are now the clear finalists in the race for second place to former President Donald Trump, who once again declined to participate. Trump instead appeared at his own town hall event hosted by Fox News.

According to early Nielsen Media Research data, Fox’s town hall with Trump averaged 4.3 million viewers from 9:00-10:00pm and the Haley-DeSantis CNN debate averaged 2.5 million during the same hour. 4.1 million Americans took in the fourth GOP debate on NewsNation and 7.5 million watched the third debate on NBC. The first two Republican debates, which aired on Fox News and Fox Business, netted 12.8 million and 9.5 million viewers, respectively.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dramatically dropped out of the race just hours before the debate. Christie, once a close Trump ally, vowed "to make sure that in no way do I ever enable Donald Trump to ever be President of the United States again. And that's more important than my own personal ambition."

Christie's exit is expected to benefit Haley, as both were targeting the anti-Trump vote and were performing well among the same moderate independent New Hampshire voters.

Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who did not qualify for the debate, remain in the race.

DeSantis and Haley wasted no time in launching into an ongoing volley of attacks, with CNN moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash interjecting every two or three rounds to pose a question.

Among the more notable exchanges:
DeSantis: “Donald Trump’s running to pursue his issues, Nikki Haley’s running to pursue her donor’s issues, I’m running to pursue your issues.… We don’t need another mealy mouth politician who just tells you what she thinks you want to hear, or just to try to get your vote, then to get into office and do her donors’ bidding.”

Haley: “He’s only mad about the donors, because the donors used to be with him, but they’re no longer with him now and that’s because he’s upset about the fact that his campaign is exploding.

In the first of a dozen times during the debate, Haley directed the audience to her campaign-funded website ""

Haley: “You’re going to see the fact that he has switched his policies multiple times and we’ll call that out tonight. But every time he lies, Drake University, don’t turn this into a drinking game, because you’ll be over served by the end of the night.”

DeSantis or Haley's Support of Ukraine: “This is the UN way of thinking that we’re somehow globalists and we have unlimited resources...I think here’s the problem. You can take the ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can’t take the United Nations out of the ambassador.”

Haley: He’s talking about where’s this money is going to come from? The best way to tell about a candidate is to see how they’ve run their campaign. He has blown through $150 million, I don’t even know how you do that...and he has nothing to show for it. He’s spent more money on private planes than he has on commercials trying to get Iowans to vote for him. If you can’t manage a campaign, how are you going to manage a country?"

Both took mild swipes at Trump. When asked if Trump has the character to be president again, Haley said, "I think the next president needs to have moral clarity...I think [Trump] was the right president at the right time, I agree with a lot of his policies, but his way is not my way. I don’t have vengeance, I don’t have vendettas, I don’t take things personally."

DeSantis: "I appreciated what President Trump did, but let’s just be honest, he said he was going to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it, he did not deliver that. He said he was going to drain the swamp, he did not deliver that. He said he was going to hold Hillary accountable and he let her off the hook. He said he was going to eliminate the debt and he added $7.8 trillion to the debt."

The candidates went back and forth on a myriad of topics -- from China and Ukraine to immigration, abortion and gas taxes -- but their exchanges routinely devolved into insults and taunts.

Both candidates held their own, but amid the barbs and bickering neither had a stand-out moment -- which DeSantis needed to move the needle. With the momentum at her back, Haley needed only to maintain the status quo, which she achieved and more.

A January 6-10, 2024 Suffolk University poll of likely Iowa voters, conducted prior to Christie's exit and the debate, showed Trump leading the Iowa Caucus with 54%, followed by Haley at 20%, DeSantis at 13%, Ramaswamy at 6% and Christie with 2%.

According to a January 8-10 Emerson College/WHDH-TV poll of likely New Hampshire voters, Haley was in second place with 28% to Trump's 44%.

Christie trailed at 12%, followed by DeSantis at 7%, Ramaswamy at 4% and Hutchinson with 1%.

DemList will keep you informed.

DemDaily: Christie Concedes Presidential Primary 1/11/23
DemDaily: Tonight's Showdown! The Fifth Republican Debate 1/10/23
DemDaily: The 2024 Presidential Primary Calendar! 1/4/23
DemDaily: The GOP Primary: A Snapshot 12/12/23
DemDaily: Countdown to Iowa. The Fourth Debate 12/8/23
DemDaily: The Dwindling GOP Field 12/5/23
DemDaily: New Hampshire First? 11/17/23
DemDaily: The Race for Second Place. The Third GOP Debate 11/10/23

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Politico, CBS, CNN, ABC, The Hill. USAToday, FiveThirtyEight

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