Nikki Haley has surged into second place in a new poll of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary race, leaving Ron DeSantis in the dust even as former President Donald Trump maintains an overwhelming lead.
The former United Nations ambassador and Palmetto State governor jumped to 22% support in the CNN poll released Tuesday, doubling up on DeSantis with 11%.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., was mired behind at 6% with other candidates trailing at 2% or less.
Haley’s rise in South Carolina comes on the heels of her pulling into a tie for second with DeSantis at 16% apiece in a new poll of Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state where his campaign has put virtually all its attention in recent weeks.
Haley says she is on the cusp of being the main alternative to Trump in the race for the nomination, leapfrogging DeSantis, who has been sliding in polls for several months now.
DeSantis countered Tuesday by criticizing a pro-Haley political action committee for funding attack ads aimed at him.
“You don’t do that unless you view me as the threat,” DeSantis told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
South Carolina is considered a key test for the GOP rivals of Trump, coming after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
If Trump stumbles in Iowa or New Hampshire, some analysts believe an alternative candidate might have a chance to topple him, especially if the opposition to Trump unites behind one of them or the former president suffers some kind of major legal setback.
Haley hopes to knock all the rivals to the mat and take aim directly at Trump, a path that DeSantis eyed before his yearlong slump in the polls pushed him back to earth.
But even if she succeeds in emerging as the clear second choice, Trump remains the overwhelming favorite of GOP voters across all states and demographic groups.
The former president scored 44% in the Iowa poll, a huge edge in a state where some predicted he could be vulnerable to a challenge.
He is far ahead in South Carolina with 53%, the new poll says.
Trump plans to skip the third GOP debate set for next week in Miami, saying he sees no need to promote his struggling opponents when he is running away with the race.