WASHINGTON, Nov 28 (Reuters) – The conservative U.S. 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 made clear that beating former President Trump in the Republican nominating contest is a top priority, arguing that he would lose the November election to President Joe Biden. The Democrat beat incumbent Trump in the 2020 White House race.
In addition to controlling tens of millions of dollars for campaign spending, the Koch-affiliated Super PAC known as Americans for Prosperity Action, or AFP Action, has thousands of staffers throughout the country who will now promote Haley among potential voters.
Among Haley’s main weaknesses, according to her campaign operatives, has been a relatively underdeveloped network of campaign workers and allies in the 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 favor of Haley in a tight battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the No. 2 slot. Around 13% of primary voters support DeSantis, according to FiveThirtyEight.
It could also help her persuade other major donors to get behind her. Many big-dollar donors have been considering supporting Haley 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 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 he 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 spokesman Andrew Romeo wrote on X on Tuesday.
Trump campaign adviser Steven Cheung responded to the AFP endorsement with a swipe at Haley’s foreign policy positions. AFP Action has endorsed a “pro-China, open borders, and globalist candidate,” Cheung said.
While Haley, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, has staked out a significantly more hawkish position on China than her 2024 rivals, the DeSantis and Trump camps have criticized her for welcoming Chinese investment into South Carolina while governor.
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 disappointing campaign turned off AFP Action, two sources with knowledge of those deliberations said.
AFP Action raised more than $70 million to spend on political races, an official with the group said in July. Super PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited sums supporting candidates as long as they don’t coordinate with campaigns.
Emily Seidel, a senior adviser at AFP Action, told reporters on Tuesday the group would dedicate significant resources to getting out the vote for the Republican primaries, including encouraging general election voters to vote in the primaries for the first time.
During the 2022 congressional elections, AFP Action says it made more than 2 million phone calls, knocked on 5.5 million doors and sent more than 69 million pieces of mail.
The Democratic National Committee said Haley checks all the Koch group’s boxes: “slashing taxes for the ultra-wealthy, gutting Social Security and Medicare, and ripping health care away from millions of Americans.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Gram Slattery in Washington and Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco; Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Washington-based correspondent covering campaigns and Congress. Previously posted in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santiago, Chile, and has reported extensively throughout Latin America. Co-winner of the 2021 Reuters Journalist of the Year Award in the business coverage category for a series on corruption and fraud in the oil industry. He was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard College.
Alexandra covers the 2024 U.S. presidential race, with a focus on Republicans, donors and AI. Previously, she spent four years in Venezuela reporting on the humanitarian crisis and investigating corruption. She has also worked in India, Chile and Argentina. Alexandra was Reuters’ Reporter of the Year and has won an Overseas Press Club award.