With two weeks to go before the South Carolina Republican primary, Nikki Haley is trying to challenge Donald Trump on her home turf while the former president tries to quash his last major rival's narrow path to the nomination.
Trump, turning his campaign focus to the southern state days after an easy victory in Nevada, is expected to rev up his supporters at a Saturday afternoon rally in Conway, near Myrtle Beach.
Trump, who has long been the front-runner in the GOP presidential race, won three contests in a row and is looking to use South Carolina's Feb. 24 primary to close out Haley's chances and turn his focus fully on an expected rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden in the general election.
Haley skipped the Nevada caucuses, condemning the contest as rigged for Trump, and has instead focused on South Carolina, kicking off a two-week bus tour across the state where she served as governor from 2011 to 2017.
Speaking to about a couple hundred people gathered outside a historic opera house in Newberry, Haley on Saturday portrayed Trump as an erratic and self-absorbed figure not focused on the American people.
She pointed to the way he flexed his influence over the Republican Party this past week, successfully pressuring GOP lawmakers in Washington to reject a bipartisan border security deal and publicly pressed Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel to consider leaving her job.
What is happening? Haley said. On that day of all those losses, he had his fingerprints all over it, she added.
Haley reprised her questions of Trump's mental fitness, an attack she has sharpened since a Jan. 19 speech in which he repeatedly confused her with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Haley, 52, has called throughout her campaign for mental competency tests for politicians, a way to contrast with 77-year-old Trump and 81-year-old Biden.
Harlie O'Connell, a longtime South Carolina resident who backs Haley, said she is excited to vote in the presidential primary for a woman from her home state. While O'Connell plans to support the eventual GOP nominee, she said she would prefer someone younger.
Bob Pollard, a retired firefighter, said Haley showed level-headedness that Trump lacks in the way she responded to the 2015 shooting at a Charleston church in which a white supremacist killed nine Black members of the congregation. Pollard said he cannot support Trump because he's a maniac, adding that Trump's campaign, in which he speaks frequently of retribution and his personal grievances, has turned into a personal vendetta.