Koch-backed group endorses Nikki Haley’s 2024 presidential bid
Influential network of billionaire Charles Koch could help GOP candidate to No 2 slot behind frontrunner Donald Trump
Washington — The influential, conservative US 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 signalled that beating Trump in the Republican nominating contest is a priority, arguing that he would lose the November 2024 election to President Joe Biden, a Democrat. Biden beat incumbent Trump in the 2020 White House race.
In addition to controlling tens of millions of dollars in funds available for campaign spending, the Koch-affiliated super PAC spending group, known as Americans for Prosperity Action, or AFP Action, has thousands of operatives throughout the country who will now promote Haley among potential voters.
Among Haley’s main weaknesses, according to campaign operatives, has been a relatively underdeveloped network of campaign workers and allies in the key 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. About 13% of primary voters support DeSantis, according to FiveThirtyEight.
It could also help her convince some other major donors to get behind her. Many big-dollar donors have been considering supporting Haley, who served as US ambassador to the UN, 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, which it did not make public, 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 that DeSantis 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’ communications director, Andrew Romeo, wrote on X on Tuesday.
Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump’s campaign, responded to the AFP endorsement with a swipe at Haley’s foreign policy positions, which are significantly more hawkish than those of Trump and DeSantis.
AFP Action was endorsing a “pro-China, open borders, and globalist candidate”, Cheung said.
The Koch endorsement marks a turnaround from the previous two presidential cycles, which the Kochs broadly sat out. DeSantis had been under active consideration for an endorsement, but his stance on Disney and disappointing campaign turned off AFP Action, two sources with knowledge of those deliberations said.
AFP Action raised more than $70m to spend on political races, an official with the group said in July. An array of powerful donors do their political giving through AFP Action.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Emily Seidel, a senior adviser at AFP Action, said the group would dedicate significant resources to getting out the vote for the Republican primaries.
“A big part of what we'll be bringing is talking to reliable general election voters and encouraging them to vote in the primaries for the first time,” she said.
During the 2022 congressional elections, according to the group's website, AFP Action made more than 2-million phone calls, knocked on 5.5-million doors and sent more than 69-million pieces of mail.
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