A group of self-styled political independents filed paperwork with the FEC this week to launch a new Super PAC aimed at swinging independent voters to support former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in her bid to secure the Republican presidential nomination.
Led by five entrepreneurs — including Jonathan Bush, the cousin of former President George W. Bush, and billionaire CEO Frank Laukien — the PAC, called Independents Moving the Needle, says it will focus its efforts on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. About 40% of voters in the state are registered as undeclared.
Undeclared voters in New Hampshire can choose to participate in Republican or Democratic primaries in any given year, making them a potentially crucial constituency for 2024 Republicans seeking a breakout moment in their fight against former President Donald Trump.
The PAC is chaired by five relative outsiders to the world of dark money politics. Laukein and his wife, Tamra, who lead companies in life sciences, are joined by Bush, CEO of a healthcare data company, and Bonnie Anderson, CEO of PinkDx, a private cancer-testing company. Robert Fisher, a white-collar attorney and a former federal prosecutor, also helped to found and is now leading the group.
“This seemed like, maybe for the first time for many of us, where we personally felt, ‘Wow, I’ve never been in politics and never intended to, but this time, I could make a positive difference together with my colleagues here,’” Laukein said, explaining why they decided to launch the PAC to support Haley.
FEC filings show Bush has donated the individual maximum of $6,300 to Haley this cycle, while Laukein has made individual donations totaling roughly $3,000 to other GOP contenders, including Sen. Tim Scott, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. However, Laukein, who lives in New Hampshire, noted the founders of the new PAC have mostly forgone political participation at this level in the past but were motivated recently by Haley’s momentum and policy positions ranging from national security to school voucher programs.
“We think we’ll have the resources to do what we set out to do, which isn’t some tug of war with another Republican candidate over that one vote that goes to one or the other. This is really for the majority of New Hampshire voters that is independent and unaffiliated,” he said.
Trump is still leading in the polls, with commanding leads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, according to 538, but only by plurality support.
Pressure is now building on candidates to consolidate support to mount a meaningful head-to-head challenge against the former president, who so far has maintained a formidable grip on GOP voters.
“She’s got momentum on her side. The timing for us was right. And Nikki is going to succeed at becoming the candidate that wins the ’24 election,” Anderson said when asked about the former president’s dominance.
So far, Haley has succeeded where other candidates have struggled, maintaining an edge in donor support and gaining traction after three well-received debate performances that have rocketed her campaign.
In the latest sign of her campaign’s growing salience, Haley secured the endorsement of Americans for Prosperity Action on Tuesday. The influential conservative activist group backed by billionaire Charles Koch — long thought to be a Republican kingmaker — now plans to pour millions of dollars into a ground game supporting her candidacy.
“She has the same sort of conservative ideas that the other guys have; she just has a better way to market those ideas and talk about them. And she’s not nasty,” said Dave Carney, a Republican strategist who worked on several presidential campaigns, adding that those qualities could strengthen her with independent and undeclared voters.
And with several fronts now opened in the war to secure the Republican nomination, the eyes of many political watchers are now locked on New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a popular anti-Trump Republican who for months has held out on announcing a heavily coveted endorsement meant to contest Trump’s supremacy.
“If he were to really put his shoulder to the wheel of the wagon of his candidate, he could get them all to take a second look,” Carney said of the impact Sununu’s endorsement could have on undeclared voters, adding that if Haley were the benefactor, she would get “more undeclared voters in New Hampshire with Sununu supporting her than on her own.”
Jeff Grappone, a veteran Republican strategist in New Hampshire, pointed to former Sen. John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 campaigns in the state, where he bombarded voters with town halls in the hope that independent voters would coalesce around him — and they did, with McCain walking away as the victor of the state in both cycles.
“Independent voters can make a significant difference in the New Hampshire primary, and that’s why these candidates are fighting so hard to get that vote,” he said.
So far, Haley’s message seems to be resonating with independent Granite Staters, having jockeyed to a second-place position in the race, according to 538, albeit still trailing Trump by double digits.
On Tuesday, at a standing-room-only town hall in Derry, New Hampshire, for Haley, New Hampshire resident Lester Reed, 76, an independent voter since he registered 55 years ago, said that while he was still working through his choices, he would hitch his wagon to Haley over Trump.
“If it was between her and Donald Trump, she would have my endorsement,” said Reed. “I like what she says, I think the woman has a backbone and she won’t take any crap from any of us guys.”
But the future for any candidate with aspirations to secure the White House will have to extend far beyond simply performing well in New Hampshire’s primary, Carney noted.
“We’re just a little footpath,” he said of the state’s closely watched contest. “We’re just going up to where the first sign is at the ranger station. The hike ahead is steep and hard after New Hampshire.”
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