ANKENY, Iowa – Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley says she spoke with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday morning but didn’t ask for his endorsement following his departure from the GOP nomination race.
And Haley, in a Fox News interview in Iowa following a campaign event in this city in suburban Des Moines, said that when she wished him well on Wednesday after his campaign suspension, she wasn’t aware of his derogatory comments about her that were caught in a viral hot mic moment.
Christie, who was making his second bid for the White House, dropped out of the race at a town hall event in Windham, New Hampshire, saying “it’s clear to me tonight that there isn’t a path for me to win the nomination.”
Christie, a long-shot for the nomination in a race dominated by former President Trump, in recent weeks had faced increased calls from fellow Republicans and from some voters to end his bid to give Haley a boost as she aims to close the gap with Trump.
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Haley, a former two-term South Carolina governor who later served as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, has soared in recent months to become the main rival to the former president, who’s making his third straight White House run.
Ahead of his announcement on Wednesday, Christie was heard on a microphone, apparently without knowing it, saying that Haley was “going to get smoked” by Trump, who is the commanding front-runner for the nomination.
“She’s not up for this,” he added.
Christie also took two digs at Haley during his speech.
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After Christie suspended his campaign, Haley wrote on social media that “Chris Christie has been a friend for many years. I commend him on a hard-fought campaign. Voters have a clear choice in this election: the chaos and drama of the past or a new generation of conservative leadership. I will fight to earn every vote, so together we can build a strong and proud America.”
Asked Thursday by Fox News whether she was aware of Christie’s cutting remarks in the hot mic moment, Haley said, “I didn’t know about the open mic comments.”
“But I do wish Chris well, it’s personal to get in a race. It’s personal to get out of a race. So, I know how tough that must be. But at the same time, I’m not like the fellas. Politics is not personal for me,” she added.
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And Haley told Fox News that “I did talk to him this morning and just told him I appreciated his … commitment to this race. But no, we didn’t ask him for an endorsement.”
Haley was interviewed the day after she and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis faced off in a combustible prime-time debate in the closing days before Iowa’s Jan. 15 caucuses kick off the Republican presidential nominating calendar.
The verbal fireworks ignited moments into the debate, with DeSantis charging that Haley was a “mealymouthed politician who just tells you what she thinks you want to hear just to try to get your vote.”
Haley immediate hit back, labeling DeSantis a liar.
“What we’re going to do is rather than have him go and tell you all these lies, you can go to DeSantislies.com and look at all of those,” Haley said in the first of at 10 references to a new campaign website.
Haley disagreed when asked if promoting the website was overkill.
“I wasn’t saying it to be repetitious, but I was saying it because every time he lied, I had to include it. Look, we have a country to save. People want real facts. They want real solutions. And this is the part of politics that I don’t like, that Americans don’t like. They don’t like the fact that people throw out stories to see if they can make one stick,” Haley said.
And she explained that “we just put up a website up there. You can go to the website, you can look at all the stuff he’s saying and see what the fact-checkers say and show that it’s false. And so I think that’s the easier way to handle it.”
A couple of times in the debate, DeSantis touted his own campaign website, which is full of opposition research clips of Haley.
On Thursday, DeSantis said at a campaign stop that Haley messed up by referring to the website.
“I think she really stepped in it by repeating that ridiculous website. People were groaning in the audience that she was doing it for the 10th, 12th time,” DeSantis said in Iowa.
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Haley grabbed momentum last autumn, thanks to well-regarded debate performances. And in recent weeks, she caught up with DeSantis for second place in the polls in Iowa and in national surveys. A fresh survey released Thursday by Suffolk University indicated Haley seven points ahead of DeSantis for a distant second place behind Trump.
Haley also surpassed DeSantis and surged to second place and narrowed the gap with Trump in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary — just eight days after Iowa’s caucuses.
After New Hampshire, the GOP nomination spotlight shifts to her home state, which holds the first southern contest on Feb. 24.
Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina’s junior U.S. senator, ended his own White House bid in November.
Asked if she’s actively seeking Scott’s endorsement, Haley said “we’ve had a conversation and right now we’re focused on Iowa. Then we’ll focus on New Hampshire, then we’ll focus on South Carolina. We’re taking it one state at a time.”
Fox News’ James Levinson contributed reporting.
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