UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
Republican presidential hopeful and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks after results came in for the New Hampshire primaries during a watch party in Concord, New Hampshire, on January 23, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Washington: Former President Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary, dealing a blow to his only remaining major rival Nikki Haley and solidifying his status as the Republican party's likely nominee.

The Associated Press called the contest for Trump at 8pm Tuesday. He was leading Haley by about 5.9 percentage points with about 23% of the vote counted. This is the second consecutive time the AP has made a quick call in favour of the Republican frontrunner.

Trump's New Hampshire victory comes after a decisive win in Iowa and delivers a setback to Haley, ahead of the February 24 primary in her home state of South Carolina. Trump currently leads Haley by about 30 points there, according to a RealClearPolitics polling average.

'It's time to take the fight to the Democrats'

"It's time for unity, it's time to take the fight to the Democrats, and for Nikki Haley: it's time to drop out," according to a statement from Taylor Budowich, chief executive officer of Make America Great Again Inc., the super political action committee supporting Trump.

The former president's win could allow Trump to wrap up the nomination fight early and pivot to a general election against President Joe Biden. Tuesday's results bring him one step closer to that goal, even as a slew of court cases, including four criminal indictments, threaten to distract him from the campaign trail.

Haley said she was planning to stay in the race, despite Trump's win.

"This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go," Haley said Tuesday night after the race was called. "And the next one is my sweet state of South Carolina."

Her loss raises questions about how long she can remain in the race even as her allies insist she could continue without a victory there. Haley faced pressure from donors to deliver a strong showing in New Hampshire ahead of the vote.

The margin of Trump's victory will likely influence the longevity of her campaign and donors' willingness to fund her increasingly longshot efforts.

Big turnout

Scores of voters came out to vote creating long lines at some polling places. The number has the potential to break the 322,000 predicted by the New Hampshire Secretary of State, which would be a record for a Republican presidential primary.

Polls ahead of the primary showed Trump consistently ahead of Haley by double digits and he was boosted in the days before the vote by the endorsement of three major rivals - US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis entered the race seen as Trump's toughest challenger but finished a distant second to him in Iowa and dropped out before New Hampshire.

Haley focused her campaign in the Granite State where she banked on her centrist message playing well with the state's electorate and had the backing of its popular Governor Chris Sununu. She also had the support of Americans For Prosperity, the super political action committee tied to billionaire Charles Koch, which spent millions on advertising and turn-out-the vote efforts for her.

The focus now shifts to South Carolina, where Haley served two terms as governor. Haley's allied super PAC says it has the resources to continue supporting her candidacy through the state's primary next month.