Influential Koch network backs Nikki Haley in GOP presidential primary

Nov 28, 2023, 4:07 PM

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley takes a question from an audience member during a tow...

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley takes a question from an audience member during a town hall at Rochester American Legion Post #7 on October 12 in Rochester, New Hampshire. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/File)

(Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/File)

(CNN) — The influential network associated with billionaire Charles Koch will throw its money and influence behind former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the Republican presidential primary, the group announced Tuesday.

The decision could dramatically reshape the Republican field – roughly seven weeks before the Iowa caucuses – as Americans for Prosperity Action deploys its vast resources and standing army of conservative activists on behalf of the former South Carolina governor.

The endorsement marks the latest sign that powerful Republican donors are coalescing behind the candidacy of the former US ambassador to the United Nations. She has seen prominent figures join her campaign in recent weeks, particularly after South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott exited the race.

Earlier this year, AFP Action – a political arm of Koch’s network – pledged to back a single contender in the GOP presidential primary for the first time in its history. And it made clear that it would bypass former President Donald Trump in its quest to find what Emily Seidel, a top AFP official, called a president “who represents a new chapter.”

“When we announced our decision to engage in our first ever Republican presidential primary, we made it clear that we’d be looking for a candidate who can turn the page on our political dysfunction – and win. It’s clear that candidate is Nikki Haley,” Siedel said Tuesday. “We can’t keep looking to the politicians of the past to fix the problems of today. Nikki Haley represents a new generation of leadership and offers a bold, positive vision for our future. AFP Action is proud to be endorsing her and we will be doing everything we can to help make her the next President of the United States.”

The effort will begin with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in support of Haley launching this week in all early and several Super Tuesday states, and the group touted its data capabilities – including a contact database with millions of voters – and its extensive grassroots reach.

Seidel did not disclose a budget on behalf of Haley, but the network has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in previous election cycles, rivaling the financial might of the Republican National Committee.

“AFP Action’s members know that there is too much at stake in this election to sit on the sidelines. This is a choice between freedom and socialism, individual liberty and big government, fiscal responsibility and spiraling debt. We have a country to save, and I’m grateful to have AFP Action by our side,” Haley said in a statement to CNN.

The former president is the Republican primary’s clear front-runner in both national and early state polling, with Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis each jockeying to emerge as the main Trump alternative.

“We’re confident we are going to have the resources we need,” Seidel said when asked about the dollar amount the network was committing on Haley’s behalf. “What we bring to the table is, frankly, years of investment.”

She noted that in the 2022 midterms alone, the Koch groups knocked on more seven million doors and delivered more than 100 million pieces of mail.

The DeSantis campaign called the endorsement of Haley an “in-kind” contribution to Trump’s campaign, painting the former South Carolina governor as a “moderate” with no pathway to victory.

“Every dollar spent on Nikki Haley’s candidacy should be reported as an in-kind to the Trump campaign,” DeSantis spokesperson Andrew Romeo said in a statement. “No one has a stronger record of beating the establishment than Ron DeSantis, and this time will be no different.”

The network already has spent millions of dollars on advertising in early voting states this year to cast Trump as likely to lose the general election.

One ad, “Unelectable,” described Trump as a serial loser who would imperil Republicans in Congress.

“If Donald Trump is the GOP nominee, we could lose everything,” the narrator says.

Trump’s campaign and an aligned super PAC quickly slammed the Koch endorsement.

“Americans for Prosperity — the political arm of the China First, America Last movement — has chosen to endorse a pro-China, open borders, and globalist candidate in Nikki ‘Birdbrain’ Haley,” campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said. He added that “no amount of shady money” will stop Trump from winning the GOP nomination and the White House.

In addition to attempting to stir doubts about Trump among the GOP faithful, network officials have said part of their 2024 strategy is to bring a broader range of voters – those who reliably vote in general elections but not Republican primaries – into the GOP primary process to help alter the outcome of early contests.

During his White House tenure, Trump, often sparred with Koch officials, who sharply criticized his administration’s trade and hardline immigration policies. But the network supported the Trump administration on other priorities, including a tax cut bill he signed into law in late 2017 and a criminal justice overhaul. The network also backed his nominees to the US Supreme Court.

This story has been updated with additional reporting. CNN’s Ebony Davis, Kit Maher and Kate Sullivan contributed to this story.

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Influential Koch network backs Nikki Haley in GOP presidential primary