In late April, staffers at Joe Biden’s headquarters fixated on votes for Nikki Haley rolling in during the Pennsylvania primary, pulling 20 to 25 percent support in the largely upscale, suburban collar counties around Philadelphia.

Most remarkable: Haley had dropped out more than six weeks earlier.

Within a day, the Biden campaign dropped an additional six-figure TV and digital ad buy in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties, explicitly targeting Haley voters with an ad featuring former President Donald Trump bad-mouthing his former U.N. ambassador and her supporters.

The ads are part of a much larger — and mostly behind-the-scenes — strategy to reel in anti-Trump Republicans, who continue to show up everywhere from Arizona to Wisconsin. The Biden campaign views Haley voters as a core part of its coalition this fall, especially as polls show some erosion among traditional Democratic groups such as young voters. Top campaign officials continue to court major Haley donors and possible anti-Trump GOP endorsers while honing their messages for bringing in Haley voters.

Trump, meanwhile, has made no such moves to bring Haley voters back into the GOP tent. Two months after she dropped out of the primary, Trump has yet to contact Haley to ask for her support, according to a person familiar with their relationship, granted anonymity by POLITICO because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

“A lot of these voters will come home by November, but his future is in his hands,” said former Indiana GOP state Rep. Mike Murphy, who had been working to organize a fundraiser for Haley before she dropped out of the race. “If he fucks up more in court, gets convicted and makes an ass of himself like he continues to do, then these people are going to continue to be disgusted with him.”

As the now-settled presidential primary enters its final weeks, the anti-Trump protest vote is expected to keep rolling in. The Trump campaign has rebuffed the idea that a lingering opposition to Trump in the primaries will be a factor for him come November, but Biden’s campaign is betting it will play a sizable role.

The warning signs for Trump are striking because of the geography of where those voters live: suburbs, the place Trump warned in 2020 were under threat in a Biden presidency, are still getting bluer. The latest example came this week in barn-red Indiana’s primary, where Haley’s zombie campaign won 22 percent overall. The numbers were even higher in the suburban donut counties like Hamilton, the wealthy Indianapolis suburb of gated communities with manicured lawns, where Haley won 34 percent of the vote.

Similar patterns unfolded in key battleground states across the country. In Georgia’s primary, Haley won about 13 percent of the vote; she performed 10 points higher in suburban Cobb County, north of Atlanta. In crucial and swingy Arizona, Haley won 21 percent in Maricopa County, gaining more than 1 in five votes in the Phoenix suburbs. And in Wisconsin last month, Haley took as much as 17 percent of the vote in the counties surrounding Milwaukee.

“In every swing state, except for Nevada, the number of Nikki Haley [primary] voters far outpaces the [margin] between Trump and Biden in 2020,” said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Haley Voters Working Group and an adviser to the Haley Voters for Biden super PAC. “In all those places, if you can get 20 percent to vote for Biden and another 5 to 10 percent who don’t vote at all, that’s going to be the difference-maker in this election.”

Trump isn’t doing anything to court Haley and her supporters

Haley is hosting dozens of top donors at a retreat Monday and Tuesday in Charleston, S.C., according to a spokesperson. She is not expected to endorse Trump or encourage donors to give to any other candidate during the event, which the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Newly installed at the conservative Hudson Institute, Haley has focused her public criticism on Biden in recent weeks. Her former campaign aides, meanwhile, have taken to publicly mocking the Trump campaign and calling attention to Haley’s continued vote shares.

“We are well past the primary,” said Haley’s former spokesperson, Olivia Perez-Cubas posted on X while sharing Haley’s near-35 percent vote total in Marion County, Indiana, which includes Indianapolis. “If you’re not paying attention yet, you should.”

Trump dominated the GOP primary. Haley only won contests in Washington, D.C, and Vermont, where the GOP electorate skewed moderate and anti-Trump, unlike much of the Republican base.

When she dropped out of the race, she declined to put her support behind Trump as most of her primary rivals had done. Instead, she called on Trump to give her supporters a reason to come back to the fold.

“It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond who did not support him,” a defiant Haley said from her Charleston-area campaign headquarters March 6, as she announced she was ending her bid.

Trump’s campaign is both sensitive to the narrative that there is a suburban protest movement afoot — and dismissive of it. A spokesperson noted that Indiana had an open primary and no major Democratic contest.

“As we saw in earlier open contests, Dems were more than happy — and at times encouraged through liberal funded campaigns — to vote for Haley,” the spokesperson said. “We clinched the primary weeks ago and have spent no money or resources on a primary campaign.”

Haley voters are crucial for Trump and Biden in November, especially given how important swing counties and states are to winning the election.

“Trump world should do, in my opinion, everything they can to get them,” said a Republican strategist who supported Haley’s bid, granted anonymity to assess the campaign frankly.

Trump and his team are “denialists” for “not doing anything” to earn Haley supporters’ votes, said the strategist, who also noted that Biden has his own weakness with voters.

Spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said in a statement that the Trump campaign is “building a historic and unified political movement to make America great again,” noting Trump’s high approval rating among Republicans and gains with “longtime Democrat constituencies such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and union workers.”

She did not describe any specific efforts to bring Haley supporters into the fold.

“Anyone who believes in securing the border, rebuilding the economy, restoring American energy dominance, and ending the wars Joe Biden has created around the world is welcome to join President Trump’s team,” Leavitt continued in a statement.

Biden’s looking to poach Haley voters as the final primaries provide a last look at the protest votes

While the Trump campaign downplays any challenges with Haley voters, the Biden campaign has been engaged in a months-long effort to bring these supporters into its camp.

Biden campaign finance chair Rufus Gifford and campaign co-chair Jeffrey Katzenberg are leading private efforts to bring in her high-dollar donors — like billionaire Mark Cuban, once a top Haley donor, who showed up at a Biden fundraiser in March. They’re also quietly reaching out to potential Republican endorsers, as they did during the 2020 campaign. Former Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said this week that he plans to vote for Biden this fall.

The Biden campaign is also researching messages that reach Haley voters, an effort which they touted to their top donors earlier this spring.

There are some groups of voters “where Biden is seeing erosion — young people, men of color — who are not going to turn out in [the] same numbers as they did in 2020, so you have to make up with that somewhere,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has worked with the Biden campaign.

“Some of that is with seniors, another is with Haley voters,” Lake said.

For Biden, Trump’s failure to win over those voters represents an opportunity — if he can seize it. Of particular concern for Haley voters, according to Schwartz, is Biden’s stance on the border and Israel.

“If they view him as too far to the left for them to stomach, then they’ll vote Trump or stay home,” said Schwartz. “That’s the predominant narrative that I’m hearing from Haley supporters, that seems dangerous to me for the Biden campaign.”

But Biden faces his own protest vote in upcoming primaries that he can’t shake. Since January, pro-Palestinian groups have urged Democrats to cast ballots for “uncommitted,” in states where that’s an option, in a rebuke of the president’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. In Michigan, “uncommitted” earned 13 percent of the vote, and in Minnesota, 19 percent.

There are still 10 states that will hold their presidential primaries between now and the first week of June, offering voters more opportunities to register their displeasure with each party’s presumptive nominee.

Biden’s next headache could come next week in Maryland, where there’s an effort to get Democratic primary voters to use the “uncommitted” ballot line to express disapproval of the president’s policies in the Middle East.

Haley, meanwhile, is on the ballot in all three states voting Tuesday: Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia. Unlike Indiana, all three have partisan voter registration, and only one (West Virginia) even allows unaffiliated voters to participate in a party primary — factors that could all dim Haley’s performance in them.

Both parties will also be carefully monitoring the votes from Nebraska’s Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District for signs of discontent with the base. Biden carried the district in 2020 and it could again deliver him an electoral vote, so long as Nebraska state legislators do not change the state into a winner-take-all state before November.

Meridith McGraw and Steven Shepard contributed to this report.



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