Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

‘It’s not who’s saying it, it’s what they’re saying:’ Nikki Haley’s draw to women and moderates

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley campaigns in Ankeny, Iowa, to become the first woman to receive the Republican nomination. Katie Hallum/Gaylord News

ANKENY, Iowa  – In July, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley could become the first woman to receive the Republican nomination for president, drawing votes from women and Democrats. That achievement could begin in Iowa, where 44% of registered Republicans are women.

Ahead of Monday’s caucus, a new poll of Iowa Republican voters placed Haley over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the first time. That poll shows about 20% of likely caucus goers favor Haley, compared to DeSantis’ 13%.

The poll was released after the final debate between Haley and DeSantis, where the two exchanged verbal blows over their own political pasts, immigration, abortion, and front-runner former President Donald Trump.

After the debate in Iowa, Haley pointed to her motherhood while speaking at a rally in Ankeny, with her two children sitting in the front row. She talked about parental rights in education:

“For all you girl dads out there, and all you strong moms, we need to raise strong girls because strong girls become strong women, and strong women become strong leaders,” Haley said. “None of that happens if you have biological boys in girls sports.”

On the campaign trail, some of Haley’s volunteers are seeing her femininity unsettle voters. Sylvia Jefferies said she has noticed in her work with Team Haley in South Carolina that some Republicans don’t take Haley’s candidacy seriously because she’s a woman.

Jefferies flew from South Carolina to watch the final Republican debate before the Iowa primaries in a Des Moines sports bar. She supported Haley while she was serving as governor from 2011 to 2017.

Jefferies said she’s drawn to Haley because of her demeanor. Jefferies, whose main issue is immigration, called Haley strong and intelligent and was pleased with Haley’s time serving in the U.N.

“We need a good southern mama in the White House,” Jefferies said. “She is a human being coming and trying to rescue this country from the same old, same old.”

In her home state, Jefferies goes door-knocking for the campaign and tries to connect with voters on Haley’s womanhood.

“You start talking to them about their grandmothers and their mothers,” Jefferies said. “They say, ‘Oh, no my grandmother wouldn’t tolerate that.’ Don’t you see that similarity in Nikki?”

In her experience, Jefferies said some male voters struggle to see the “strength” they identify with the presidency in a woman, as opposed to just seeing a candidate for office.

However, Jefferies believes Haley’s most recent debate performance will help her image. Jefferies said her words in the debate were more definitive and “in your face.”

Rural Iowan Calder Parott is a former Democrat who now supports Haley and is a registered Republican. Both Parott and a friend made the party switch about three months ago, having previously worked on Pete Buttigieg’s campaign for president during the 2020 election cycle.

“We felt that we had to switch parties to back Nikki Haley,” Parrott said. “I thought (Haley) is the best candidate moving forward to get this country back on the right track.”

Parrot said he expects a lot of moderate voters, specifically women, will end up backing Haley. He credited her views on abortion as being the most promising thing to pull moderates, adding her campaign should emphasize it.

In an April visit to Iowa for a “Women for Nikki” event, Haley said she was “pro-life” but added she doesn’t judge those with an opposing viewpoint any more than she does with people who agree.

According to a Des Moines Register story, Haley said abortion was a personal issue for women and men and should be treated with respect.

“Her abortion standpoint to me … it’s the best compromise between the two parties,” Parrot said. “If people are really paying attention to Nikki Haley, and even just the campaigns in general, her stances on abortion, I think are the most reasonable if you’re the President of the United States.”

Parrot doesn’t think Haley’s campaign is directly targeting women voters but instead is more focused on trying to get some of Trump’s base. That being said, Parrot doesn’t think Haley is avoiding female voters either.

While he has seen it heavily, Parrot said some gender bias likely exists within the Republican party toward Haley’s campaign.

“For some reason, people don’t like to see powerful women in politics. I don’t get it,” Parrot said. “It’s not who’s saying it, it’s what they’re saying. In my mind, she may not be the perfect candidate, but she’s the best one we have right now.”

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories by Gaylord News go to

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