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DeSantis Shifts to South Carolina to Take On Nikki Haley on Her Turf

(Bloomberg) -- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is moving a majority of his staff to South Carolina, the home state of GOP presidential rival Nikki Haley, in a bid to force her out of the race, according to a senior campaign official.

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DeSantis will campaign in that state ahead of the New Hampshire primary, where voters will cast ballots Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss their plans.

While the governor’s team has insisted he is not skipping New Hampshire, the next state on the Republican calendar, the move largely leaves that contest to his rivals. It also comes just days after DeSantis finished a distant second to former President Donald Trump in Iowa Monday, raising doubts about his ability to stay in the race.

The decision to shift resources to South Carolina was first reported by CBS News.

New Hampshire presents a challenge for DeSantis. A poll by the University of New Hampshire for CNN earlier this month showed Haley in striking distance of Trump there but DeSantis well behind in fifth place at 5% support. Haley has poured her resources into the Granite State in recent weeks, while DeSantis has spent less time in the state and has little campaign infrastructure.

DeSantis, Haley Face New Hampshire Doubts After Trump Iowa Win

The Florida governor is banking on a more conservative electorate in South Carolina where a win over Haley on her home turf could be damaging to her and shift the race to a Trump-DeSantis contest. Haley and DeSantis have both sought to position themselves as the chief alternative to Trump.

“When Nikki Haley fails to win her home state, she’ll be finished, and this will be a two-person race — and her donors are starting to come to the same conclusion,” DeSantis spokesperson Andrew Romeo said. “We’re wasting no time in taking the fight directly to Haley on her home turf.”

Asked about DeSantis’ pivot, Haley campaign spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said, “South Carolina is a great state. We hope they enjoy their vacation time here.”

A donor to the DeSantis campaign, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the candidate is ceding New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina, citing his poll numbers in the respective states. None of DeSantis’ super political action committees have booked any air time in either state but do intend to spend money in South Carolina, according to the donor.

DeSantis trails Haley and Trump by a narrower margin in South Carolina, where Haley once served as governor, than he does in New Hampshire. The RealClearPolitics average of South Carolina polls shows him at 11%. Trump leads in the state with 52% and Haley is just under 22%.

After his second place finish in Iowa, DeSantis opted for a meet-and-greet event in South Carolina on Tuesday morning before heading to New Hampshire where he participated in a CNN town hall later in the evening.

DeSantis Super PAC Lays Off Staff Leading Into New Hampshire

One of the super PACs backing DeSantis, Never Back Down, is laying off staff even as DeSantis and his aides insist they have enough money to sustain their bid through early March when several primaries are held on Super Tuesday.

--With assistance from Bill Allison and Christian Hall.

(Adds Haley campaign reaction in eighth paragraph)

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