Opinion | Nikki Haley and the W-Word

Opinion | Nikki Haley and the W-Word

This is why, coming out of New Hampshire, the conversation that stuck in my head was with Lee Dunn, who had come up from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., to volunteer for Team Haley. Waiting for a rally to begin on the eve of the primary, I asked Ms. Dunn why she had committed to Pick Nikki!, as the campaign swag implores. She didn’t hit the darker notes I had been hearing so often: The panicked, Trump is a disaster. Or the disgusted, I cannot bear a November rematch between two old geezers. Instead, she gushed about how amazing it was to see an impressive, accomplished woman in this position — someone she saw herself in. Sure, Mrs. Clinton had walked this path before, but Ms. Haley is younger, she noted, and more relatable. (And, of course, more conservative.)

“She’s the kind of person you can see driving car pool. She seems like one of your mom friends who, if you were sick, would show up at your house with food,” said Ms. Dunn, an attorney and mother of three.

Many of her mom friends felt the same, she said, even some of the Democrats. “And you know, women vote more than men!” she offered. Ms. Dunn, an erstwhile player in Republican politics, says Ms. Haley is the first candidate that has inspired her to get involved at the presidential level in well over a decade. For her, this is true political love, not some tepid relationship of convenience.

It wasn’t until the next day, talking with voters heading to and from the polls, that it struck me how infrequently I had heard this kind of extended gender-based pitch for Ms. Haley — or this kind of passion — not just among her supporters, but even from her campaign. Sure, now and then, the candidate or her people nod at her history-making potential. She’ll joke about her high heels. And at one of her meet-and-greets, I found myself bopping along to the Sheryl Crow tune “Woman in the White House.” But Ms. Haley’s campaign has been notably devoid of the full-throated go-girl energy we witnessed during Ms. Clinton’s presidential runs, or even the second-tier “first ever” talk that accompanied Ms. Harris’s pick as vice president.

Once again, I am reminded of how complicated, and potentially frustrating, the terrain can be for hard-charging women in high-level Republican politics.

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