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DeSantis ad targets Haley — not Trump — in Iowa

First Read is your briefing from the NBC News Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Nikki Haley Iowa Town Hall
Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, smiles after a Fox News Town Hall, Jan. 8, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall / AP

Happening this Tuesday: Appeals court hears Donald Trump’s immunity claim in election-interference case, with Trump expected to attend … Special counsel Jack Smith and Judge Tanya Chutkan get targeted in apparent swattings… And Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy campaign in Iowa, while Chris Christie and Dean Phillips are in New Hampshire.

But FIRST... We are now six days from the Iowa caucuses, and the major back-and-forth in the Republican presidential campaign is about ... Nikki Haley.

That’s at least the situation over the airwaves, as both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and frontrunner Donald Trump’s allies have released closing TV ads hitting Haley.  

The DeSantis campaign released this ad in Iowa on Monday, per NBC’s Dasha Burns: “Here’s what Wall Street-funded Nikki Haley just said in New Hampshire: ‘You know that Iowa starts it, you know that you [New Hampshire] correct it.’” 

And here’s a new ad that the pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc. is now airing in New Hampshire, according to NBC’s Jake Traylor: “Drug traffickers. Rapists. Poisoning our country. But Nikki Haley refused to call illegals ‘criminals.’”  

It’s understandable why DeSantis is going after Haley, since the two are locked in a competitive contest for second place in Iowa.

We also get why Team Trump is targeting Haley, since she’s been gaining ground on the GOP frontrunner in New Hampshire over the last couple of months.  

Now DeSantis did mention Trump in that Iowa ad — barely — with footage of the Florida governor saying “Trump is focused on his issues.”

But that delicate Trump criticism side-steps the big picture in this Republican presidential race: Donald Trump holds a commanding lead and is the overall frontrunner for the GOP nomination, despite all of the legal challenges he continues to face. 

Headline of the day 

The number of the day is … 4

That’s how many House lawmakers already this year have said they don’t plan to return to the House after this term.

All four are Republicans — Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri, Doug Lamborn of Colorado, Larry Bucshon of Indiana and John Curtis of Utah, who plans to run for Senate

They join 22 Democrats and 12 other Republicans who announced in 2023 that they won’t seek re-election, according to the House press gallery. 

Some of these lawmakers are leaving to run for Senate, while others have cited redistricting as a reason for not running again. Others have pointed to the chaos in the House last year or that Washington is “broken” as reason for leaving. 

Eyes on November: Biden makes his case to Black voters

President Joe Biden traveled to South Carolina on Monday to make his case to Black voters — a crucial constituency in the first Democratic primary state and in the general election. 

“They tried to steal an election and now they’re trying to steal history,” Biden said of Republicans as he criticized their efforts to dismiss the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack, echoing his speech last week, NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez and Diana Paulsen report from Charleston. 

Biden addressed the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where a white supremacist killed nine people in 2015. He “highlighted what he saw as major wins for the Black community during his presidency including reducing the cost of prescription drugs, lowering the income gap between white and black Americans, and celebrating Black history through the designation of Juneteenth as a national holiday,” Gutierrez and Paulsen write.

In other campaign news … 

Campaign trail to courtroom: Trump will be in court Tuesday and again on Thursday, just a few days before the Iowa caucuses. But NBC’s Garrett Haake writes that Trump’s campaign and allies see the court appearances “as a boost, not a detriment, to his bid to return to the White House.”  

Trump trials: In the federal election interference case, Trump’s team wants the Supreme Court to weigh in on a presidential immunity question. And Trump’s team moved to dismiss the Georgia election interference case on presidential immunity grounds. 

He’s back: After saying last month that spending money on TV ads was “idiotic,” businessman Vivek Ramaswamy is back on the Iowa airwaves this week. His campaign launched a TV ad featuring controversial former GOP Rep. Steve King, who recently endorsed Ramaswamy’s campaign. On the campaign trail, Ramaswamy is appealing to potential supporters with events that often feature free beer, NBC’s Alex Tabet and Katherine Koretski report.

Dem drama: The Democratic standoff over New Hampshire’s primary took a legal turn on Monday, with the state’s attorney general sending a cease-and-desist order to the Democratic National Committee, which recently called the state’s Jan. 23 primary “meaningless,” per NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald.

From Kentucky to the nation: Fresh off of his successful 2023 re-election run, Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear launched a new PAC on Monday called In This Together, which will seek to elect “good people and good candidates” nationwide, the Washington Post reports.

Heating up in Arizona: Arizona Republican Kari Lake, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2022, announced that her Senate campaign raised $2 million in the last quarter of 2023, Politico reports. And Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego’s Senate campaign announced that he  raised over $3 million over the same period.

Special election set: California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday set a May 21 special election, with a March 19 primary, to replace former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Targeting voters of color: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee plans to spend $35 million this election cycle to turn out voters of color in House races, NBC’s Suzanne Gamboa reports.

Fired: The Florida Republican Party on Monday voted to remove Christian Ziegler as its chairman, as he faces allegations of rape and video voyeurism, NBC News’ Matt Dixon reports.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

A growing number of lawmakers are seeking answers about Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s ongoing hospitalization, as well as why it took so long to inform the public and the White House that he was in the ICU. 

Law enforcement placed a driver in custody after the driver crashed a vehicle into an exterior gate at the White House Monday night.