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In Davenport visit, Nikki Haley: 'The tone at the top matters'
Former South Carolina governor says ‘The ability to bring people together matters’
By Sarah Watson, Quad City Times
May. 21, 2023 12:36 pm
DAVENPORT — In her first visit to Davenport since announcing her run for president, Nikki Haley laid out her vision to cut federal spending and strengthen the country's status on the world stage.
Speaking to a group of close to 100 people at Dahl's Old Car Home in Davenport on Friday, the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations, proposed raising the age for current young people to receive Social Security and Medicare to "reflect more of life expectancy" and cutting congressional earmarks to tamp down federal spending.
She said she didn't want to raise the age for current seniors.
"My parents are in their 80s. We take care of them. I don't want anybody touching them," Haley said. "My kids or (those) in their 20s, they're the ones we're talking about."
Other national Republicans eyeing the Oval Office have taken a different stance.
Donald Trump, in Davenport in March said he wouldn't make any cuts to Social Security or Medicare, criticizing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who's been testing the waters of a run for president, for his past support of raising the retirement age and privatization. Since then, DeSantis has said Republicans are "not going to mess with Social Security."
Haley on Friday promised to end an earmark program that allows members of Congress to appropriate money to projects in their districts and said the U.S. should claw back unspent COVID-19 funds. She also called for beefing up border security to prevent fentanyl from entering the U.S. and a national requirement for employers to use E-Verify, a government system that compares records to verify a worker's eligibility.
Haley also touted the Trump administration's decision to change the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which she described as "taking the 'kick me' sign off our backs."
On education, Haley decried "critical race theory" in education, and was critical of transgender women and girls, calling Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender woman who did an ad with Bud Light "a guy dressed up like a girl, mocking women."
Haley also called back to her background growing up in rural South Carolina, becoming the state's first minority female governor, and her work at the United Nations. Trump, now an opponent in the campaign, chose Haley for the U.N. spot.
Haley, 51, is the daughter of Indian immigrants. She said she was teased on the playground.
"My mom would always say your job is not to show them how you're different. Your job is to show them how you're similar," Haley said. "It's amazing how our country could use my mom's advice right now."
Voters elected Haley to the statehouse in 2005, defeating the longest-serving representative at that time. She launched a campaign for governor in the 2010 election and won despite low early polling numbers, she said.
Haley said she's not worried about current polling for the presidential race. The most recent shows Trump and DeSantis polling in double digits with others, including Haley, in single digits in Iowa.
"I have been underestimated in everything I have ever done," Haley said. "And it's a blessing because it makes me scrappy, and it makes me work hard. No one is going to work Iowa harder than me. I'm gonna do everything I need to to earn every one of your support."
One audience member implored Haley "to make America civil again," and asked how she would do so.
Haley responded with a story of how, as South Carolina governor, she was among several voices to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state's capitol grounds after the 2015 shooting at an AME church in Charleston, where a gunman who espoused white supremacist views shot and killed nine church members.
"My job as governor was to understand how personal this issue was for every South Carolinian," Haley said. "Half of South Carolina saw that flag as heritage and service. The other half of South Carolina saw it as slavery and hate. My job wasn't to judge any of them. My job was to bring out the best in them to get them to see a way forward. It took two thirds of the House, two thirds of the Senate … to bring that flag down and put it away."
"The tone at the top matters," Haley said. "The ability to bring people together matters. Even in our most terrible times, that is what I have done all my life. That is what I promise I will do for you. It doesn't mean we have to have watered-down compromises. It doesn't mean we have to have weak hearts. We have to speak with conviction, treat every person with respect, and understand how we're going to go forward. That is what I will do in this country."
That was what Ted Souhrada, of LeClaire, was looking for at Friday’s event. Souhrada said he's "not a fervent Trump supporter" and is looking at other options, including Haley.
"I want someone who's strong, someone who thinks clearly. Someone who can make good decisions for everyone and has consensus," Souhrada said.
But he acknowledged Haley doesn't have the recognition that Trump or even DeSantis have.
Another audience member asked Haley for her opinion about abortion. She said the Supreme Court was right to hand the issue back to the states, and said she doesn’t favor a national ban because there wasn't the consensus in Congress for one.
"Can't we all agree that we shouldn't see late-term abortions? Can't we all agree that doctors and nurses who don't believe in abortions shouldn't have to perform them? Can't we all agree that we should encourage adoptions and the quality of adoption. So our foster children feel more love and not less. Can't we agree that contraception should be more accessible? And can't we agree that any woman that has an abortion should not have to go to jail or get the death penalty? That's what I'm saying we will do."
Floyd Marx, of Goose Lake, said he and his wife have seen Trump and DeSantis speak before coming to see Haley. He said he "totally agreed with everything she said," and that he liked her energy levels.
But, he said they haven't made a decision yet ahead of the 2024 caucuses.
Haley campaigned for state and congressional Republicans ahead of the 2022 midterm elections in October and June last year.
Her stop is part of a recent swing through Iowa, including events in Ankeny, Waterloo, Dubuque and Davenport.
Trump, who made a visit to Davenport in March, is the front-runner for the nomination. A recent National Research poll of likely Republican caucus goers showed Trump leading with 44 percent, DeSantis, who has not officially announced a run, but has been visiting Iowa, with 26 percent, and Haley with 6 percent.
Other prominent national Republicans have made stops in the Hawkeye State, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former biotech executive and author Vivek Ramaswamy, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.