Nearly a year after former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley released a video announcing her presidential campaign, she returned to the location where it was filmed: her hometown of Bamberg, South Carolina.
In recent weeks, Haley has traveled around the state as she tries to catch up with former President Donald J. Trump, who leads her in state polls by more than 30 points. On Tuesday, she received a warm welcome at Bamberg Veterans Park, where, after hugging attendees as they entered as cheers and cowbells rang out, Ms. Haley sometimes deviated from her usual remarks to gush about how the community had molded her.
“This is the town that taught me strength, this is the town that taught me grace, this is the town that taught me faith,” he told the crowd of about 100 people. “And this is the town that taught me that, no matter what, neighbors take care of neighbors.”
Ms. Haley was introduced by the city's mayor, Nancy Foster, who recalled stories about Ms. Haley from her childhood and noted that Ms. Haley's brother, Mitti Randhawa, had played on her school's tennis team. husband.
“Nikki, Bamberg is very proud of you and we wish you the best in all your endeavours,” he said.
But even with the friendly audience, his uphill battle to take votes away from Trump became clear. Ms. Foster told a Times reporter after the event that she had not decided who to support at the polls.
The small city of 3,000 people was hit by a tornado last month that destroyed parts of the city center, according to local news reports. Destroyed buildings with exposed wood were visible from where Ms. Haley was speaking, and seemed to reference recent fighting.
“This is a difficult time and I know there needs to be more healing and I know people have suffered,” she said. “But I know that if there is any city that can surpass it, it is Bamberg.”
The crowd, although small, was enthusiastic. Lines from Haley's stump speech that have received polite applause at other recent campaign events were met with exuberant applause Tuesday, such as when she said, “We beat a dozen guys, we only have one left to catch.”
She referenced Trump in her remarks but focused primarily on what she hoped to accomplish in office, something Marlene Workman, a Republican small business owner in Bamberg, said she appreciated.
“She's not trying to put everyone else down; it's not a negative campaign,” Workman, 57, said. But Workman acknowledged Haley's uphill battle in the state, saying that “a lot of people don't give her credit. They probably won't listen to what she has to say.”
Tammy Smoak, a 60-year-old Bamberg resident who said she used to work for a small business owned by Ms. Haley's parents, said the former governor struck her as “real.” Seeing Ms. Haley in person solidified her decision to endorse her in the upcoming primary on February 24, she added.
“She hasn't forgotten where she came from or what made her, and she is a person of character,” Ms. Smoak said.
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