Polls close as Nikki Haley and Donald Trump go toe-to-toe in pivotal New Hampshire primary

The Republican presidential primary race shifted to unusually competitive territory Tuesday, as Nikki Haley sought to compel free-thinking New Hampshire voters to side with her over her rival Donald Trump and to supercharge her long-shot challenge to the former president.

Trump, who has established commanding primary polling leads everywhere else, is seeking to ward off his lone remaining Republican rival and to make the Granite State contest a grand coronation. The last polls are scheduled to close at 8 p.m.

Surveys showed him leading Haley in New Hampshire, too, but some polls showed the gap in single digits or in the low double digits going into the primary. Ballot-box turnout seemed to be robust Tuesday, according to officials and early news reports — a positive sign for Haley, but far from a guarantee that she would land within striking distance of Trump.

Kerri Parker, the town clerk in right-leaning Meredith, N.H., told the Daily News that about 3,000 of the town’s 5,000 or so registered voters had cast ballots.

Haley’s campaign is the final remaining primary vessel for anti-Trump Republicans after candidates including Chris Christie and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida dropped out of the race. She invested heavily in New Hampshire, barnstorming across the state with its moderate GOP governor, Chris Sununu. 

In the last week alone, she made more than 30 campaign stops in New Hampshire, according to her campaign. Trump, meanwhile, has been balancing court appearances and a more stripped-down campaign, but has still led raucous rallies in New Hampshire.

For Haley, the relatively moderate former South Carolina governor, New Hampshire offers a rare and perhaps final chance to upend the race. The Granite State has a crush of independent voters on its rolls and famously moderate New England sensibilities.

“SO RIDICULOUS THAT DEMOCRATS AND INDEPENDENTS ARE ALLOWED TO VOTE IN THE REPUBLICAN PRIMARY,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform shortly after 6 p.m., perhaps modulating expectations. “BUT WORD IS WE ARE DOING REALLY WELL!!!”

Trump’s grip on the national Republican electorate remains formidable, and he steamrolled his way to victory in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses a week ago. Trump outperformed Haley by 32 points and DeSantis by 30 points in Iowa.

The race also grew increasingly personal going into Tuesday, with Haley sharpening her attacks on Trump and both candidates questioning each others’ mental faculties. 

At a rally on Monday, Trump predicted that Haley would “be gone probably” by the end of Tuesday. Haley told reporters that she would not be taking orders from the 45th commander in chief.

Even if the closer finish in the New Hampshire primary proves a precursor for thumping Trump victories as the primary proceeds, Haley may be loath to leave the race. She has been raising impressive sums of money, and a range of race-bending possibilities remain on the table — in one legal case, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether Trump can legally remain on the ballot in other primary states and in the general election.

Haley’s campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, issued a memo on Tuesday that asserted that, whatever the results, the former governor planned to fight on.

“The political class and the media want to give Donald Trump a coronation. They say the race is over,” Ankney wrote. “That isn’t how this works.”

She pointed ahead to the primary in Haley’s home state, South Carolina, on Feb. 24, as another possible proving ground, noting that independents can vote in the state and that it elected Haley twice to its governorship.

“And while members of Congress, the press, and many of the weak-kneed fellas who ran for president are giving up and giving in – we aren’t going anywhere,” Ankney wrote.

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