Republican voters have a choice between “chaos” and competent leadership, Nikki Haley told an audience at Utah Valley University on Wednesday afternoon. “We have to know that we can be part of the solution,” Haley said. “We have to know that America is better than what we have right now.”

Haley, the lone remaining challenger to former President Donald Trump in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, visited Utah as part of a multistate swing ahead of Super Tuesday. Utah will hold a “presidential preference poll” at its caucus meetings Tuesday, along with 15 other states or territories holding primaries or caucuses.

In the hours preceding her afternoon speech at UVU, Haley met with the Deseret News Editorial Board. She later held a reception for donors and supporters at the Provo airport.

Voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina cast votes in recent months, all selecting Trump. Tuesday, Haley lost the Michigan GOP primary election to Trump, garnering just 27% of the vote. But during her speech in Orem, Haley portrayed Trump’s victory, in which he garnered less than 70% of the vote, as an indictment on his ability to win in November.

“In every one of these races, Trump hasn’t gotten 30% to 40% of the vote,” she said. “You can’t overlook that. Because you can’t win a general election if you’re losing 30% to 40% of the vote.”

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during a rally at the Noorda Center for the Performing Arts at Utah Valley University in Orem on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, spoke to a full concert hall at the Noorda Center for the Performing Arts. An adjacent auditorium provided a live stream and overflow seating. Over 50 supporters, many of them holding signs, stood on choral risers behind Haley, including Utah state Sens. Mike McKell and Todd Weiler, both of whom have endorsed Haley.

Haley’s 30-minute address mirrored the stump speech she has given at rallies and events for several months. She discussed runaway federal spending, the need for American strength abroad, the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border and the general dissatisfaction with both Trump and President Joe Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.

The crowd was animated and involved, cheering throughout the speech. Haley discussed the national security threats posed by China, South Korea and Russia. “This is the time when America needs a leader that has moral clarity,” she said, earning perhaps her loudest applause of the day. “We need a leader who knows the difference between good and bad, and right and wrong.”

Haley was critical of Trump, repeating her frequent critiques of his ability to win in November, the exuberant federal spending during his administration, his apparent disrespect for the military and his ongoing legal troubles. “At no point is he talking about the American people,” Haley said. “He’s only talking about himself.”

Nikki Haley to Deseret News: Voters are ‘desperate for another choice’

Haley referenced polls of hypothetical general elections between Trump and Biden, noting that they show the two men neck-and-neck. Many polls, she added, show Haley with a double-digit lead over Biden.

A man interrupted her, shouting, “But you didn’t win South Carolina!” The audience booed, and Haley gazed up at the balcony. “I’ll get to that,” she said.

“For the rude gentleman that decided to yell out,” she continued. “The reason I’m doing this is not about what I care about happens to me. I’m doing this for my kids. I’m doing this for your kids and your grandkids.”

Haley was introduced by Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who called Haley “the real deal.” Henderson endorsed Haley in January, alongside Utah first lady Abby Cox, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers and other Utah civic and community leaders.

“She’s an incredible leader, and her experience, her expertise, the depth and the dignity with which she conducts herself, is exactly what our country needs right now,” Henderson said.

While the event took place on a university campus, only a small fraction of attendees in the main concert hall — less than a dozen — were college-aged. The vast majority appeared to be middle-aged or elderly, matching the demographics at many of Haley’s events around the country. “It wasn’t advertised on campus well,” said Jackson Mullins, a UVU undergraduate student who came with a friend.

But the low student attendance speaks to a broader issue facing Haley: her message is resonating with older voters, while she struggles to access young voters. In New Hampshire, she fared worse with voters ages 18-29 than any other bloc, losing them by over 20 percentage points; in South Carolina it was again her worst demographic, losing by over 30 points.

Earlier in the day, Haley held an invite-only reception at the Provo airport, where members of her leadership team and donors mingled and took photos. Around 150 people attended the event at a private hangar — more than double what organizers were expecting.

Later, at the UVU event, some attendees arrived 90 minutes early to get the best seats. The event started about 10 minutes late, after Haley gaggled with local and national press backstage. She stayed after the event as a line formed near the stage to greet Haley and take pictures.

“We need someone who can hopefully bring conservatism back,” said Elizabeth Rasmussen, a Lehi resident who plans to vote for Haley at Tuesday’s caucuses. “She represents the best of the Republican Party.”

Several attendees described themselves as lifelong Republicans who feel much of the party no longer reflects their values. “No candidate is perfect, but Haley at least has respect for the office of the presidency,” said Greg Farley. He plans to take his two daughters — both of whom will be voting in a presidential election for the first time — to caucus on Tuesday.

Haley closed her speech with a plea for voters to attend Tuesday’s caucuses, and “take 10 people with you.”

“We can do this, but we have to have faith,” she said. “We have to have the will to be part of the solution. And this is a chance where Utah can show the country the direction that we want to go.”