Nikki Haley is hoping for victory in her native South Carolina

Nikki Haley is the final hurdle between Donald Trump and the Republican presidential nomination. But even in her hometown of Bamberg, South Carolina, not everyone is behind her.

It’s not hard to find someone in Bamberg who has a personal connection to Nikki Haley. The 52-year-old Republican presidential candidate was born in the town of 3,000 people southwest of South Carolina’s capital Columbia and spent her childhood there. While chatting in front of the post office, the mother of a school friend tells us how the two children played together in the garden at home. A former teacher remembers an inquisitive preschooler.

The people here are noticeably proud that “one of them” is now playing a role in big politics. Bamberg is located in one of the poorest areas of South Carolina, which is roughly the size of Austria and has a population of just over 5 million. Churches, fast food chains and gas stations are lined up on the large main street. A tornado recently swept through the town – some houses were leveled and the consequences of the destruction can still be seen. But even though people here and across South Carolina have elected Haley to various political offices multiple times – she served as the state’s governor from 2011 to 2017 – she lacks support in the presidential race.

Nikki Haley hopes for home advantage

After Donald Trump’s primary election victories in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Haley will have another duel with the ex-president on Saturday for her party’s nomination for the election on November 5th. South Carolina is the first southern state in line for the Republicans. Haley isn’t that far behind there – nationally, polls currently separate her from Trump by around 60 percentage points; But a gap of more than 30 percentage points gives little hope of success in South Carolina either. In addition to Trump, there is little room for an applicant like Haley, who is seen as politically moderate and rhetorically much more moderate.

This can also be seen in front of the polling station in Bamberg. Residents have been able to cast their votes there for some time, but Saturday is the last opportunity. For many, Trump is the favorite. After all, one argument goes, he was already president and knew what he was doing. Another is that Haley was too close to the Democrats. “She always seemed somehow fake to me,” says a 76-year-old who just voted for Trump.

For Haley – and for Trump

But there are also those who actually think Haley is pretty okay – like Krista Hassell and Sharon Carter. The two Republicans met for lunch at Duke’s Bar-B-Que. They also know the politician personally, from their school days. Everyone always bought their prom dresses at “Exotica,” Haley’s parents’ clothing store, they say over pulled pork, cheese broccoli and sweet iced tea.

Because Sharon is the chairwoman of the Bamberg Republican Party, she is not allowed to say who she is supporting in the primary. Krista can speak openly: She is voting for Haley – also because she is a role model for her daughter. Trump is a “great political shaper,” says Krista, but she is offended by his rhetoric.

The friends agree: If Trump didn’t have such a huge following, Haley would be the perfect Republican candidate. It is clear to the women that in all likelihood she will not be. Krista then wants to support Trump – because she is still a Republican, a Christian conservative, “through and through”. Personally, she would of course find it better if someone lived according to God’s word, says Sharon when asked how her Christian values ​​can be reconciled with Trump’s numerous escapades and serious legal allegations against him. In the end, she cares about whether his policies are compatible with her values ​​- and that is the case.

Election campaign at sunset

The evening before, Haley was campaigning about an hour and a half away by car in picturesque Beaufort on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast. Once a popular vacation home for wealthy plantation owners, the area retains much of the wealth generated through slavery: Beaufort, with its colonial villas, expansive verandas and Virginia oaks, is considered the epitome of so-called Southern charm. Haley herself now lives with her family a little further north in Kiawah Island – the wealthiest city in the state according to Forbes.

About 200 people came to see the presidential candidate. When Haley enters the stage, the sunset has bathed the small waterfront park in a romantic orange-red. For the state with a comparatively high proportion of black people, the audience is strikingly homogeneous: white, of advanced age and largely somewhere in America’s upper middle class.

The atmosphere is good, but dignified – definitely different than at Trump events. The fact that things are quieter for Haley is one of the reasons why many people here would rather see her in the White House. Against the backdrop of rocking sailboats, she once again presents her arguments: There is a need for a new wind in the White House and not divisive rhetoric. She could reunite the country and put it on the right path.

Concern for the social fabric

But the Republican voter base cannot be mobilized this way. A real cult community has formed around Trump, which is also evident at the CPAC conference, which is taking place at around the same time in the US capital Washington – a kind of class reunion for the right-wing nationalists. Lara Trump, among others, will speak in the large ballroom of the conference hotel. She is Trump’s daughter-in-law and, according to Trump’s wishes, will soon become a member of the party leadership and is stirring up panic about a third world war. The most applause comes when it comes to issues of the so-called culture war. Barbara Coward from Maryland is there for the tenth time and is sure: her candidate is Trump. The reasons? “First and foremost it is the economy and securing the border.”

These themes also come up again and again in the conversations at Haley’s campaign appearance in Beaufort. But there is this one thing that simply doesn’t play a role at Trump events: a concern for decency and the social fabric. Everett – one of the few younger people in the audience – has given his voice to the ex-president in recent years and would have done so again “if he didn’t talk the way he talks.” Jim Kamppi also shares this assessment – the storming of the Capitol in January 2021 was a turning point for the former Trump supporter. If in doubt, would he vote for the incumbent US President, Democrat Joe Biden? “No way.”