Presidential candidates Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are scheduled to square off at a Wednesday night debate in Iowa, sparring to knock each other down before the caucuses on Jan. 15.
The two alternatives to Donald Trump have been on a collision course in recent weeks. Haley has risen in the polls to challenge DeSantis’ standing in Iowa, the first-in-the-nation state where he sees a pathway forward to beat the former president.
The White House hopefuls qualified for the debate alongside Trump, but the 77-year-old GOP frontrunner will be skipping out to hold his own town hall with Fox News.
DeSantis, 44, is riding on doing well in Iowa and has vowed he can win the state, despite polling showing Trump an average of 30 points ahead, per RealClearPolitics.
Haley, 51, is averaging only 2% behind DeSantis in the Hawkeye State, so knocking her down in the debate will be a major boost to his campaign.
His campaign has already hinted at how the Florida governor will attack Haley, releasing an ad Monday highlighting her recent gaffe about how New Hampshire voters “correct” the results coming out of Iowa.
DeSantis will likely attempt to juxtapose his more traditional ground game approach in Iowa with Haley’s “joke” about Iowa voters and may mention her infamous moment where she failed to mention slavery as the cause of the Civil War.
He focused on Haley’s remarks in a conversation with reporters on Monday.
“With Nikki Haley, her flippant comments and derogatory comments in New Hampshire saying that Iowans would be corrected by another state, you know, I think are very, very damaging, because I think it plays into this conceit about people in the middle of the country that somehow, you know, they don’t count or that they need to be corrected by other folks,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis’ campaign has also previously attacked Haley by claiming she is aiming to be Trump’s VP, arguing that she’s too liberal and pointing to her China ties — all attacks that could be brought up again on stage.
Haley’s plan of attack
The former UN ambassador will likely hold her own at the debate and play more defensively until she has the opportunity to strike back, as she has at previous GOP debates.
Ramping up to the debate, Haley has increased her attacks on Trump and President Biden and has accused DeSantis of being “desperate” and “lying” about her record of liking Hillary Clinton.
Haley’s campaign has strongly called for Trump to join the debate, indicating they see an opportunity to challenge the former president head-on.
“Nikki wins over voters every time they hear her vision for a strong and proud America. She’s tough, authentic and focused, and voters love that about her. With the debate stage down to just two, the time for Donald Trump’s hiding is just about over,” Haley spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas told The Post.
Haley has been more timid than DeSantis in announcing a specific goal in Iowa and has said she would like a “good showing” in the state, not necessarily a win. Her backer New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu predicted she would get a “strong second.”
Her campaign has stressed her rising polling numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire and has pointed to her “momentum” as evidence she is the best alternative to Trump.
Haley has also knocked DeSantis for his failure to climb in the polls and may point to the numbers at the debate.