How did New Hampshire voters react to Nikki Haley’s comments on the Civil War?

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NORTH CONWAY, N.H. – Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has a common tagline on the 2024 campaign trail: “It’s not what I say, it’s what I’ve done.”

And when it comes to her recent comments about the Civil War, that’s exactly how some crucial first-in-the-nation primary voters in New Hampshire feel. Haley faced backlash from Republican and Democratic opponents over her response to a town hall question Wednesday night about the cause of the Civil War, in which she failed to mention slavery.

Town hall attendees USA TODAY spoke with at a Haley event in North Conway Thursday described the response as a minor blip in her campaign. And the voters, who fell across the political spectrum, all said that it wasn’t likely to impact their support for her.

Haley in her comments Wednesday described the cause of the Civil War as about government control, “freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.”

Scott Blundo, a 55-year-old undeclared voter from Moultonborough, argued that while the comments were “a little short-sighted,” he was paying closer attention to Haley’s actions.

In particular, he pointed to her tenure as governor of South Carolina, when she removed a Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse following a shooting in Charleston that left nine Black Americans dead, as reason for his trust that she understands the gravity of the role race has played in America’s story.

“I believe in her enough as a person. I don’t think a one-off comment should sway anyone in a particular way,” Blundo, a U.S. veteran, said. “And I believe in her politics, which is present day.”

Bill Lloyd, an 80-year-old, registered Republican, similarly pointed to her experience in South Carolina and broadly described her comments as similar to gaffes other politicians, like President Joe Biden have made.

Even some Democrats agreed.

“She’s going to make gaffes. They all do,” Becky DeWitt, a 72-year-old Democrat who plans to vote for Haley if she makes it to the general election, said. “There are just some things she needs to learn.”

The response from New Hampshire voters, and particularly independents like Blundo, comes as Haley looks to topple Republican frontrunner former President Donald Trump in the presidential primary.

To get there, she’s betting on a coalition of hesitant Trump voters, never-Trump voters and independents like Blundo in the Granite state to help her close the gap with the former president and potentially catapult her to success in other contests. And with less than five weeks to go until the primary, Haley can’t afford to lose any support.

Haley walks back comments

One of the major factors that’s likely to determine whether Haley’s comments about the Civil War will mark an inflection point for her campaign is her response, veteran GOP strategist Mike Dennehy told USA TODAY.

“It started as a fairly serious misstep, but if she isn’t clear about her position on slavery in the Confederate flag and the Civil War, then it will keep coming up and could present a serious challenge,” he said.

In a statement posted on X, the social media network formerly known as Twitter, the NAACP said Haley’s comments “perpetuate a dangerous narrative.”

“To diminish the role of slavery in the Civil War is not only historically inaccurate but also fails to acknowledge the ongoing impact of systemic racism and white supremacy as a result of it,” the tweet from the civil rights organization said.

New Hampshire is the third whitest state in the U.S., after it’s neighbors Maine and Vermont. A mere 2% of the state’s population is Black or African American, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

Haley attempted to walk back her comments during the North Conway event Thursday.

“Of course, the Civil War was about slavery,” she told the predominantly older white crowd packed into a high school library. “But the lessons of what the bigger issue with the Civil War is that let’s not forget what came out of that which is government’s role, individual liberties, freedom for every single person.”

For some voters in the crowd, her added response made a difference.

“I’m glad she at least addressed it,” Brian Patry, 46, said. “I don’t think she should have left slavery out of it the first time. It should definitely be brought up, but I see where she was going.”

Patry, an independent debating between voting for Haley and Christie in the Republican primary, gave Haley some leeway for being put on the spot.

“I’m sure it’s hard to give an answer that will make people happy,” he said, adding that Haley’s comments wouldn’t be the defining factor in his electoral decision.

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How did New Hampshire voters react to Nikki Haley’s comments on the Civil War?

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