No state knows Nikki Haley better than South Carolina. Not Iowa, where Haley spent months and millions, only to finish in third place in the January caucuses. Not New Hampshire, where a late push wasn’t enough to keep Haley from a sound second-place finish. And not Nevada, which Haley chose to forfeit altogether, finishing behind “none of these candidates” in an uncompetitive primary.

In South Carolina, the next state to vote in the GOP presidential primary, Haley spent two terms as the state’s first female governor — it’s a return home. At campaign stops, local politicians call her “Nikki” and tell personal stories about her leadership. Voters cheer their approval when Haley recounts her victories in the state: bringing in Boeing and Volvo; installing a body-camera requirement for police; removing the Confederate Flag from the statehouse.

“She’s South Carolina’s favorite daughter,” said Scarlett Wilson, a local prosecutor who introduced Haley at multiple rallies on Thursday and Friday.

But none of that may not be enough to keep South Carolina from dealing its favorite daughter a huge defeat. On Saturday evening, when polls close for the state’s Republican primaries, Haley is expected to lose soundly to former president Donald Trump, serving another blow to her chances at winning the Republican presidential nomination.

Polls show her trailing Trump by nearly 30 percentage points in her home state. Statewide officials, many of whom worked closely with Haley during her administration, flocked to endorse Trump. At several of her campaign stops this week, Haley has been greeted by pro-Trump demonstrators, with some of them forced to leave by security after disrupting the events. Upon returning to her home state, Haley received both a welcome and a dose of reality.

“The majority of the state is for Trump, and Haley needs to know that,” said Virginia Chapman, a Myrtle Beach resident who arrived to a Haley rally Thursday waving a Trump flag. “South Carolina has changed since she was here.”

In many ways, the state’s shift is emblematic of the Republican Party’s own transformation over the past decade. Haley rode the Tea Party wave into office in 2010, becoming the first woman of color in the country to be elected governor. She maintained high favorability ratings, marking her two terms by leading the state through economic growth and navigating crises like the Mother Emanuel Church shooting.

When Trump gained popularity in 2016, Haley worked to stop him, endorsing Marco Rubio in that year’s presidential primary and campaigning with the Florida senator throughout South Carolina. But evidence of Trump’s instant popularity — and Haley’s waning influence — were on display when Trump swept the state’s delegates. He went on to win South Carolina by wide margins in both the 2016 and 2020 general elections.

After serving as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Haley now returns to her home state and finds a political dynamic wholly unlike the one that carried her into office in 2010. Gov. Henry McMaster, who served as Haley’s lieutenant governor, endorsed Trump; so did Sen. Tim Scott, who Haley appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy. Seven of the eight members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation have filed behind Trump. (The eighth, Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, endorsed Biden.)

Some of this newfound support for Trump is the residue of longstanding, in-state political rivalries. Other parts may be reflective of the reality that Trump, not Haley, has become the face of a Republican Party that has seen major shifts in recent years. And it also may be an indication that Haley, despite her one-time popularity, ran in 2010 as a political outsider, explained Gibbs Knotts, professor of political science at the College of Charleston and author of “First in the South: Why South Carolina’s Presidential Primary Matters.”

“Haley never had much support from the state’s political establishment,” Knotts said. “She ran against the ‘good ole boy’ network, and that may be hurting her some in the primary.”

The changes in South Carolina go beyond the Republican Party alone — and some may be favorable to Haley. South Carolina is one of the country’s fastest-growing states; in 2023, it showed greater single-year growth than any other state. Haley seems to be making inroads with the state’s new arrivals, many of them moving from blue states.

At a Haley event in Georgetown on Thursday, Alice Kester, who moved to the state from North Carolina, said she supports Haley because she is a “legitimate alternative to Biden and Trump.”

Later that evening, in Myrtle Beach, Melissa Cunningham — who moved from New York — said voting for Haley is her “only choice.”

On Friday in Mount Pleasant, a woman with dual Swedish-U.S. citizenship said that “Europe is on the edge of their seat.” “We need a leader who seeks peace in the world,” she said.

Another attendee, Maribeth Minsehwaner, said she admires how Haley can “talk about her opponents without calling them names.”

Recognizing the state’s changing demographics has become a central strategy for some of Haley’s allies. The Haley-affiliated super PAC, SFA Fund Inc., has sent mailers to registered Democrats throughout the state, encouraging them to vote in the Republican primary. Another PAC, PrimaryPivot, has flooded Democrats statewide with the same message via texts, phone calls and radio ads.

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But Haley’s ability to reach home-grown Republicans may decide the primary. Her events this week were well-attended in the state’s fastest-growing areas — near Charleston and along the Grand Strand, the beach communities along the state’s northeast coast. Many attendees at these events were elderly and affluent, and the venues were pristine: in Georgetown, her supporters were on the back lawn of an upscale boutique hotel, with yachts flying Haley flags floating nearby.

Among rural and working-class voters, however, Trump often dominates. His two public events this week — a live-audience Fox News town hall in Greenville and a rally in Rock Hill — were both filled near capacity.

At Haley’s Myrtle Beach event, a group of “Bikers for Trump” waved signed and flags across the street, soliciting honks and waves from passing cars. One man, David Sandifer, donned a blue suit, red tie and blonde wig, waving a giant TRUMP 2024 sign. “I liked Haley for a while,” Sandifer said. “I stopped when she said she would not run if Trump ran. Why did she jump in the race? I call people like that opportunistic.”

Haley has the mechanism to reach these voters, albeit indirectly. After receiving an endorsement from Americans For Prosperity-Action in November, pro-Haley canvassers have reached over 1.2 million voters across the state through door contacts or phone calls, according to Drew Klein, AFP’s regional vice president over South Carolina.

In many of those conversations, AFP-Action’s door-knockers often hear that they want Haley to lighten up on Trump. “The most consistent comment from voters is she should focus more on policy and accomplishments, and less on Trump,” said Greg Adams, an AFP-Utah employee who spent this week canvassing in South Carolina.

Haley’s attacks on Trump have become more frequent — and more pronounced — as the primary draws closer. When Trump poked fun at Haley’s husband, who is deployed with the South Carolina Army National Guard, last week, Haley incorporated a response into her stump speeches.

“When you mock one member of the military,” she says, “you’re mocking every member of the military.”

She blasts Trump for proposing tax increases and tariffs. She criticizes him for spending campaign cash on his legal defense. She slams his proposals on Social Security. She accuses him of siding with a “thug” and a “tyrant” in Vladimir Putin by threatening to abandon NATO countries.

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The base that currently backs Haley — and those who attend her rallies — agree with this message. Voter after voter told me that they are voting for Haley because they refuse to vote for Trump. Many implied that they are part of the quiet majority. “There are a lot of people who despise Trump and like Nikki, but are scared to say so,” Suzanne Doyle, a resident of Conway, said at Haley’s Georgetown rally. “Because Trump people are thugs,” John Kester, standing nearby, added.

The staunch anti-Trump position has gotten Haley this deep into the race. For many South Carolina voters, though, the decision Saturday isn’t a question of whether to support the state’s favorite daughter. It’s whether they would consider voting against Trump.