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Sununu lowers expectations for Haley in Tuesday's New Hampshire GOP primary

Sununu lowers expectations for Haley in Tuesday's New Hampshire GOP primary

New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu this week lowered expectations for Republican Nikki Haley's performance in the Granite State, telling ABC "Nightline" co-anchor Byron Pitts that her campaign "always wanted to have a strong second" place in the state's GOP primary on Tuesday.

"That's the only expectation we ever laid out there. Now to the fact that she's challenging him to actually win the state, something no one in the media ever thought was possible, that gets everybody really excited," he said on Wednesday. "I mean, that's a pretty big hill to climb, to be sure, but it can be done."

But speaking with ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl in December, just after endorsing Haley, Sununu said that the Granite State was "an absolute win" for the former U.N. ambassador.

"It's a win and a reset button," he added, predicting she would secure the vote in a "landslide" victory, prompting Karl to interject.

"He's setting a bar for you there, an expectation," Karl said to Haley.

"He knows his state better than I do," Haley responded, pointing to Sununu.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley leaves the Newfields Country Store after stopping for a cup of coffee with N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu, during a campaign stop, Jan. 19, 2024, in Newfields, N.H.  (Charles Krupa/AP)
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley leaves the Newfields Country Store after stopping for a cup of coffee with N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu, during a campaign stop, Jan. 19, 2024, in Newfields, N.H. (Charles Krupa/AP)

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Pressed on Thursday by ABC News' Rachel Scott about which one it was — would Haley win in a landslide or would she be a "strong second" in the state — Sununu said it was "all about getting the vote out."

"So, if everyone that can possibly vote comes out, that would be tremendous, and I have no doubt that we could get a victory here, but the expectation was we want a strong second place, we've got that. We've already exceeded those expectations," he told Scott after Haley's Thursday town hall in Hollis, New Hampshire.

"My plan is that we wanted to be strong in Iowa, we did that. We want to be stronger in New Hampshire, we're going to do that. We want to go to my sweet state of South Carolina, we want to be even stronger there. It's about just continuing to move up," Haley added.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event in Hollis, N.H., Jan. 18, 2024. (Matt Rourke/AP)
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event in Hollis, N.H., Jan. 18, 2024. (Matt Rourke/AP)

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All this as Haley turns her full attention to New Hampshire following a third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, just behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

But Haley, whose campaign and allies have spent over $26 million in New Hampshire on advertising and exercised an aggressive ground game, still trails her top rival, Trump, by more than 10 points in the state, according to 538, as DeSantis' standing has collapsed to just 5% of those polled supporting him.

PHOTO: New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu introduces former UN ambassador and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley before she speaks at a campaign town hall event at Hilton Garden Inn, Dec. 28, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu introduces former UN ambassador and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley before she speaks at a campaign town hall event at Hilton Garden Inn, Dec. 28, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)

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Haley hopes to garner independent voters in the first-in-the-nation primary, making the argument to voters on Thursday that she's the only one able to defeat President Biden in a general election and that Donald Trump is "more of the same."

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Undeclared voters, who can vote in either Republican or Democratic primaries in the state, make up nearly 40% of all registered voters in New Hampshire, making it a potentially significant demographic for Haley as she works to catch up with Trump.

Haley has embarked on a host of retail stops this week which ramped up on Friday, hoping to capitalize on intimate conversations with voters and will be joined by Sununu, a popular anti-Trump Republican who overperformed with undeclared voters to win his fourth gubernatorial election in 2022.

Americans For Prosperity Action, a Super PAC established by the Koch Brothers network that endorsed Haley in December, launched a $27 million mail and digital campaign targeting early states flooding the airwaves and deploying hundreds of door knockers.

PHOTO: Campaign workers put out signs in snow banks for Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley before a campaign stop ahead of the New Hampshire primary election, Jan. 18, 2024, in Hollis, N.H. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
PHOTO: Campaign workers put out signs in snow banks for Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley before a campaign stop ahead of the New Hampshire primary election, Jan. 18, 2024, in Hollis, N.H. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

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Meanwhile, Trump has ramped up attacks on Haley this week, zeroing in on her electability in the general election and her possible down-ballot impact, even accusing her of "counting on Democrats and liberals to infiltrate" the Republican primary in New Hampshire as Haley attempts to make a play for undeclared voters in the state.

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"A vote for Nikki Haley this Tuesday is a vote for Joe Biden and a Democrat Congress because that's what's going to happen," Trump said in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Wednesday -- his second campaign stop in New Hampshire since the Iowa caucuses.

"I don't know that she's a Democrat, but she's very close," Trump said in Portsmouth. Earlier that day, he had posted on social media a picture of Hillary Clinton with Haley's face edited in.

"That's just one of the many positions that they take, makes them, in my opinion, completely unelectable," Trump said of both Haley and DeSantis in Portsmouth.

"You know, you've got a choice to make in five days. And the country is all watching. In five days, we will shock the country," Haley told the crowd in Hollis on Thursday. "Let's get it done."

Sununu lowers expectations for Haley in Tuesday's New Hampshire GOP primary originally appeared on abcnews.go.com