(Bloomberg) -- 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 8 p.m. Tuesday. He was leading Haley by about 9.6 percentage points with about 50% of the vote counted. This is the second consecutive time the AP has made a quick call in favor of the Republican frontrunner.

“If we do not win, I think our country is finished,” Trump said in a victory speech, calling it a “bad night” for Haley and predicting an easy win for his campaign in South Carolina, the next major contest in the GOP presidential primary.

The former president addressed a raucous crowd at a primary night party in Nashua, New Hampshire, with US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, considered to be a potential running mate for Trump, perched over his shoulder.

 

Trump’s New Hampshire triumph comes after a decisive win in Iowa and delivers a setback to Haley, ahead of the Feb. 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 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’s Future

Haley, the former UN Ambassador and South Carolina governor, said she was planning to stay in the race, despite Trump’s success. 

“This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go,” Haley said Tuesday night to a room that quickly emptied after her speech. “And the next one is my sweet state of South Carolina.”

Haley’s loss raises questions about how long she can remain in the race even as her allies insist she could continue without a victory Tuesday. 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. 

Brittany Yanick, a spokeswoman for SFA Fund, a super PAC supporting Haley, sought to downplay the loss, saying the results show the campaign “surpassed expectations” in New Hampshire, adding that Haley’s political network has the “strength and resources” for contests in February and early March.

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 — Scott, 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.

“While we work toward November 2024, one thing is increasingly clear today: Donald Trump is headed straight into a general election matchup where he’ll face the only person to have ever beaten him at the ballot box: Joe Biden,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement.

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 main goal is to get Joe Biden out of the White House,” Chris Ager, the chair of the New Hampshire Republican party, said Tuesday evening. “The best way to do that is to rally behind whoever our nominee is. You don’t want to burn any bridges.”

--With assistance from Stephanie Lai, Christian Hall, Hadriana Lowenkron and Amanda Gordon.

(Updates with margin, Trump speech, NH Republican chair)

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