ALTOONA, Iowa — Nikki Haley went after Ron DeSantis directly at an Iowa town hall Sunday night, as the two battle for second in the GOP presidential contest’s early states.
“While Ron is lying about me, I’m going to tell you the truth about him,” she told the crowd at the Fireside Grill in Altoona. “You haven’t heard me in any town halls — the press can tell you — I have not talked negatively about anybody. But if you’ve got to lie to win, you don’t deserve to win.”
The feud between Haley and DeSantis, both trailing former President Donald Trump by double digits in most polls of Iowa and other states, has been escalating for weeks. Both want to position themselves as the main alternative to Trump in the GOP presidential race.
But what was notable about this 90-second attack aimed at DeSantis is that Haley did it at the end of her standard stump speech. While DeSantis comes up in response to questions thrown at Haley, she rarely attacks him directly, and her stump speech has remained largely unchanged for the bulk of the campaign.
Haley’s Sunday comments began with a reference to pro-DeSantis ads.
“I am seeing the ads that you are seeing on TV,” she said. “Ron DeSantis has not put one truthful ad up there about me.”
Super PACs boosting each candidate have flung attacks both ways in recent months on issues like ties to China and support for Israel, amid the ongoing war in the Middle East.
While Haley’s campaign put out a digital ad earlier this week attacking DeSantis for his position on entitlements, Haley herself has not engaged with DeSantis’ increasing criticism of her in recent weeks.
On Sunday, after criticizing DeSantis on spending and energy policy, Haley then brought up DeSantis campaigning with Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., in Iowa on Saturday.
“You can’t be pro-Israel, and bring the most anti-Israel Republican into this state, who voted against fighting antisemitism on college campuses and voted against calling out Hamas,” Haley said. “He voted with ‘the Squad’ and that’s who he brought to your state.”
In response, DeSantis said that Massie is not against Israel specifically but against all foreign aid.
“Obviously, I’ve been a big supporter of supporting Israel. I think it’s in our national interest,” the Florida governor told reporters Saturday. “But when he gets tagged as somehow being against Israel specifically, that is not true. He has voted against 100% of it. That’s his position. And he’s been very principled on that and we don’t have to agree on that.”
In a statement, DeSantis’ campaign press secretary, Bryan Griffin, called him “the clearest, most consistent pro-Israel candidate in this race” and said Haley was “trying to distract from her record of inviting Gaza refugees to the U.S. and supporting U.S. tax dollars going to the Gaza Strip.” DeSantis’ campaign has been hitting Haley with the debunked charge that she wanted to accept Gazan refugees for several months.
With the Iowa caucus less than a month away, the most recent NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of the state showed Trump leading the GOP field with 51% support, followed by DeSantis at 19% and Haley at 16%, with the fight for second place within the margin of error.