Who Is Nikki Haley — And Why Is She Picking Up Steam in the 2024 Republican Primary?

Nikki Haley


Here’s what we know about the rising GOP contender. 

Republican kingmaker Donald Trump might be facing a formidable challenger for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination after all — and it might be from one of his former administration officials.

Amid a winnowing field of hopefuls, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley appears to be gaining real momentum. On Tuesday, the presidential hopeful scored a major endorsement from Americans for Prosperity, the political wing of the conservative network led by billionaire Charles Koch. This marks the first time the deep-pocketed group has thrown its support behind a Republican candidate in a presidential primary, and it unlocks some serious financial resources for Haley to take on Trump. 

“We can’t keep looking to the politicians of the past to fix the problems of today. Nikki Haley represents a new generation of leadership and offers a bold, positive vision for our future,” AFP senior adviser Emily Seidel wrote in a statement. “AFP Action is proud to be endorsing her, and we will be doing everything we can to help make her the next President of the United States.”

This isn’t the first time Haley has drawn the support of an influential backer. After South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott dropped out of the primary, three of his donors, including tech entrepreneur Eric Levine, threw their support behind her, proving that one candidate’s else’s loss can be another’s gain.

Here’s a closer look at Haley’s background, including her family, her upbringing in the South, and her policy positions.

Where is Nikki Haley from?

Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley — better known as Nikki Haley — was born on Jan. 20, 1972, in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Ajit Singh Randhawa and Raj Kaur Randhawa, who are both immigrants from Punjab, India. She has three siblings: two brothers, Mitti and Charan, and a sister, Simran. 

Nikki Haley’s parents 

From an early age, Haley was taught the importance of education and hard work. Her mother, Raj, studied law at the University of New Delhi before moving to the U.S. and becoming a public school teacher. Her father, Ajit, earned his doctorate from the University of British Columbia and worked as a biology professor at Voorhees College. Together, they also ran a clothing store, where Haley helped with bookkeeping as a teenager. After graduating from Clemson University with a degree in accounting, she helped turn the shop into a million-dollar fashion boutique. It closed in 2008, when her parents decided to retire after 32 years in business. 

In her 2020 Republican National Convention speech, Haley addressed the challenges of growing up as a minority in the rural South. “I was a brown girl in a Black and white world,” she said at the time. “We faced discrimination and hardship, but my parents never gave in to grievance and hate.”

Nikki Haley’s husband and children 

Haley first met her husband, Michael Haley, when she was attending Clemson. He currently serves as an officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard and was the first-ever First Gentleman of South Carolina when Haley was governor.

Nikki Haley and her husband Michael at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa. (Getty Images)

Before their marriage in 1996, Haley’s parents didn’t approve of her now-husband, citing their differences in religions and backgrounds. The future presidential candidate was raised Sikh, while her partner was Methodist. Eventually, the family came around, and the pair had two wedding ceremonies to honor each faith, though Haley has since converted to Christianity. 

Together, the couple has a daughter, Rena, and a son, Nalin. “We chose Christianity,” she has said, “because of the way we wanted to live our life and raise our children.”

Nikki Haley’s political views and 2024 campaign

Believe it or not, Hillary Clinton inspired Haley to run for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2004. I went to Birmingham University, and Hillary Clinton was the keynote speaker on a leadership institute, and she said that when it comes to women running for office, there will be everybody that tells you why you shouldn’t, but that’s all the reasons why we need you to do it, and I walked out of there thinking, ‘That’s it. I’m running for office,’” she told The New York Times. 

Despite facing pushback, she beat out long-time incumbent Republican Larry Koon. During her tenure, she voted for bills restricting abortion and expressed support for greater enforcement of immigration laws.

Then, Haley set her sights on becoming the state’s first female and first Indian-American governor, which she accomplished in 2010. But she didn’t truly gain national recognition until she provided the Republican rebuttal to the 2016 State of the Union address, when she criticized then-President Obama’s record, which she said had “often fallen far short of his soaring words.”

Shortly after her speech, she was floated as a potential running mate for the party’s 2016 nominee, Trump, but he ended up choosing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence instead. Not only did Haley not campaign for Trump, but she also disagreed with him on several issues — for instance, she openly criticized him for not immediately disavowing the Ku Klux Klan’s support of his campaign and his proposed Muslim ban

Despite these differences, Haley eventually voted for Trump, and he picked her to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Two years later, she resigned from the position and went on to write her second memoir, With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace. The tell-all made headlines for some pretty shocking claims, including how some of Trump’s own officials tried to sway her toward subverting his directives to “save the country.” 

Then, on Feb. 14, 2023, Haley announced her 2024 presidential campaign in a video posted to X, formerly known as Twitter. If successful, she will become the first female president and the first Indian American president.

Nikki Haley’s current poll numbers and supporters

Haley currently boasts 9.9 percent support, behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 13.8 percent and Trump’s 61.3 percent, according to RealClearPolitics’ latest aggregate of nationwide polls. 

Yet, the Koch network still believes that she is better positioned to defeat Trump — and Presdient Joe Biden, for that matter. In a polling memo, senior adviser Michael Palmer noted that the former South Carolina governor has “sustained momentum in recent months,” as she gains ground in early-voting states, like Iowa and New Hampshire. For instance, in a recent CNN/University of New Hampshire poll, she claimed 20% support, an eight-point increase. While that may not sound like much, it marks a substantial lead over rivals like DeSantis. 

Some owe this rise to her strong performances in the first three GOP debates. “There’s lots of historical precedent for how these debates can change the trajectory of a race. And at this point, I think she’s shown that she’s got the ability to perform under pressure,” veteran Iowa strategist David Kochel told ABC News.

It’s clear some Republican voters are starting to see Haley as a promising alternative to Trump, but whether they actually want to elect someone besides the former president remains to be seen.