EXETER, N.H. – The departure of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from the GOP presidential race is firing up Nikki Haley and her supporters.
Haley’s final event of the day – a rally in a high school auditorium with television host Judge Judy – came several hours after DeSantis’ exit.
“Can you hear that sound?” Haley asked as she began her remarks. “That’s the sound of a two-person race.”
DeSantis’ announcement may not do much to shake up the competition; the Republican politician’s support in New Hampshire was down to the single digits. But the collapse of his campaign did energize Haley backers two days before the Jan. 23 primary.
She is now the last candidate standing against former President Donald Trump in the race for the GOP nomination.
DeSantis drops out of 2024 race:Florida governor says voters ‘want to give Trump another chance’
‘Please, New Hampshire. Use your brains, and your heart’
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu warmed up the crowd. Haley’s campaign tossed out T-shirts. A young Haley supporter bounced from side to side on stage to song “Holding out for a Hero.”
Daytime TV host Judith Sheindlin, 81, commonly known as Judge Judy, came on stage and called Haley a star.
“I’m not here to bash the competition, although I’m perfectly capable of doing that,” Sheindlin said to cheers. “Suffice it to say that when you teach a child not to put their hand over a flame, you do that because you know they’re going to get burned. Well, we’ve gotten burned.”
An audience member interrupted the remarks, shouting at Sheindlin: “Send Trump to prison.”
Sheindlin, who endorsed Haley earlier this month, traveled from Florida on Sunday to boost Haley in Exeter.
“Please, New Hampshire. Use your brains and your heart,” she said. “Bring her home on Tuesday.”
The pair shared a hug before Sheindlin left the stage.
“How cool is it to have Judge Judy endorse you? It really is,” Haley said. “She’s a trailblazer. She’s tough. She speaks hard truths. She doesn’t mince words.”
Sheindlin on Haley: ‘Chaos doesn’t follow her’
In an interview before the event, Sheindlin told USA TODAY she contacted Haley almost a year ago when the former U.N. ambassador was still just a rumored candidate for president.
Sheindlin says she reached out to Haley back then because she was impressed with her and wanted to get to know her better.
“She’s level, she’s poised, she has executive experience, she has international gravitas, and chaos doesn’t follow her. And she’s cognitively together,” she said.
Haley is “totally focused” on her job, she said. “Trump is pulled in civil court, criminal court. Financially, he’s facing hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties. He’s chaotic. Now, he may thrive on it — the country needs a level leader.”
‘I will beat Donald Trump and Joe Biden’
Trump was wooing voters at an event of his own at the Rochester Opera House. He was laudatory at the rally of his newest endorser.
“He ran a really good campaign. I will tell you – it’s not easy,” Trump said of DeSantis. “You think it’s easy doing this stuff, it’s not easy.”
Trump was not nearly as kind to Haley. For the second night in a row, he hit her on border security, trade policy with China, and the fact she is appealing to independent voters in New Hampshire.
On Saturday night, he brought South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on stage with him in Manchester, New Hampshire. McMaster said at the event that the “vast majority” of people in Haley’s home state want Trump.
Haley hit back on Sunday night.
“What do you say about the fact that the governor of South Carolina came to New Hampshire to campaign against you? And I would say, you mean the guy that I beat when I ran for governor?” she said to cheering. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Madbury resident Dan Holmes, 51, said Haley has shown “good character” throughout the campaign and his entire family is supporting her. DeSantis’ exit should help her on Tuesday, said the software company worker.
“It will narrow the field a little bit,” Holmes added. “He was not gaining momentum in this state. This is a super important state to demonstrate your abilities as a candidate. To show that you can develop a relationship with the voters. And he hadn’t really shown much ability of that.”
Haley gave extended remarks on national security in Exeter, in place of her traditional stump speech, promising to recoup land that Chinese companies have purchased in the U.S. and end normal trade relations until Xi Jinping’s government “stops murdering Americans.”
“Don’t let Biden tell you that China’s a competitor,” she said. “They never saw us as a competitor: they always saw us an enemy. We’ve got to start looking at them they way they look at us.”
Haley was at one point interrupted by a protester who held up a yellow sign calling her an “oil sellout.” She said in Exeter, as she did at a previous New Hampshire event, that she is “always happy to see a protester” because her deployed husband, Michael, and other service members are putting their lives on the line for their freedom of speech.
“I will beat Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” she pledged. “We can do this. Together we can do this.”
Contributing: David Jackson