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Haley jumps into W.H. race earlier than her 2024 competition. There’s a benefit to that

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley during a news conference in Allentown, Pa., on Oct. 26, 2022.Matt Rourke / AP file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... Nikki Haley formally launches her presidential bid in Charleston, S.C., per NBC’s Ali Vitali. ... NBC’s Craig Melvin interviews Haley in network exclusive to air Thursday on “Today.” ... Mike Pence visits Iowa. ... Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., announces she won’t seek re-election. ... President Biden travels to Lanham, Md., to discuss the economy, deficit and debt. ... And NBC’s Ken Dilanian confirms that the special counsel investigating Donald Trump’s classified documents is seeking to compel the former president’s lawyer to testify before a grand jury.

But first: As the fictional Ricky Bobby declared, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

And that “Talladega Nights” expression helps explain a presidential-campaign phenomenon we’ve witnessed over the last couple of cycles: There’s a benefit in being the first major non-frontrunning candidate to announce a bid — like Nikki Haley is doing today in South Carolina. 

You get just a little more attention than the non-frontrunners who goes second, third or fourth.

Think back to the 2020 cycle, when Elizabeth Warren was the first major Democrat out of the gates, announcing before Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar. Guess what: Warren eventually finished third in that race to frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. 

In 2016’s GOP presidential contest, Ted Cruz was the first major Republican to announce, and he ultimately finished second to Donald Trump. 

Bottom line: If you’re not Trump or Ron DeSantis in 2024, it helps to be the first true non-frontrunner to get into the race. 

As for the rest of the potential 2024 GOP field, Mike Pence today is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, opposing transgender-affirming public school policies.

Tomorrow, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., holds a Black History Month event in Charleston, S.C. — the same city where Haley launches today — before heading to Iowa next week. 

And this week, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is delivering policy speeches in D.C.

The 2024 presidential race — slowly, but surely — is picking up speed. 

Data Download: The number of the day is … 5

That’s how many prominent Republican women have run for president, with Nikki Haley becoming the fifth GOP woman to seek the White House, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Overall, Haley becomes the 24th prominent woman to run for president, per CAWP.

More than twice as many Democratic women have run for president than Republicans, fueled largely by the crowded field of Democrats who ran in 2020. A total of 13 prominent Democratic women have run for the White House in U.S. history, and six of them ran in the 2020 primary.

Read more about past female presidential candidates, and how Haley stressed her gender in her campaign announcement, on the Meet the Press Blog

Other numbers to know:

6.4%: The annual increase in consumer prices in January, a slight decrease month-over-month but above analysts’ predictions.  

11.3%: The annual increase in grocery prices in January, something that major grocery chains are trying to address with their suppliers.

100:  The number of President Joe Biden’s federal judge nominees the Senate has confirmed, hitting that mark on Tuesday with Appellate Court Judge Cindy Chung. 

$2.5 million: At least how much the missiles used to shoot down the Chinese surveillance balloon and the three other unidentified objects cost, according to NBC News’ Daniel De Luce and Mosheh Gains. 

$10 billion: The potential price tag of new U.S. aid to Ukraine as part of several announcements aimed at underscoring America’s commitment to the country as its war with Russia hits the one-year mark, per NBC News’ Courtney Kube and Carol Lee. 

6,000: The approximate number of Ukrainian children who have been relocated and sent to re-education camps by Russia, per an independent study sponsored by the U.S. government that stressed the number of Ukrainian children “forcibly transferred” could be significantly higher.

8: The number of years Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon led the country before she announced her intent to resign on Wednesday.

$5 million: The budget surplus welcoming first-term Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, as she joins eight other newly-sworn governors across the U.S. facing record budget surpluses, Politico reports.

Headline of the day

Eyes on 2024: Feinstein makes it official

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., finally made the announcement Tuesday that Democrats in California had been waiting for — she will not run for another term and will instead retire at the end of 2024. 

The writing had been on the wall. Prominent California Democrats have already announced they’re running for Senate (with more on the way); former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed a candidate (Rep. Adam Schiff) in case Feinstein wasn’t running; and the 89-year-old senator raised just $8,800 in 2021 and 2022, closing the year with less than $10,000 in the bank and a half-million in debt. 

But the certainty now officially clears the field for what’s bound to be one of the most expensive (if not the most expensive) primaries in the country. And it’s one less question looming over the Senate map ahead of the 2024 election. 

In other campaign news:

Trump picks up another endorsement: Freshman Rep. Harriet Hageman, R-Wyo., who defeated Liz Cheney in last year’s GOP congressional primary, is backing Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential race, per NBC’s Garrett Haake. 

New York state of mind: New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told The Gothamist that she had a “lovely lunch” with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., amid rumors that the progressive congresswoman could challenge the senator in a primary. Gillibrand praised Ocasio-Cortez and said she couldn’t “think of a better adversary for [Rep.] Marjorie Taylor Greene” on the Oversight Committee. 

Texas forever: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told supporters he’s running for re-election to the Senate in 2024, and he’s not running for president, per the Houston Chronicle

Chatting about China: South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem will deliver a speech responding to the “threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party” at the America First Policy Institute

Show me your budget, I’ll show you your values: New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who is weighing a presidential run, laid out his budget priorities during a Tuesday speech, focusing explicitly on education licensing reform, housing and raises for state employees, per WMUR 

Second time a charm?: Democrat Adam Frisch, who lost to Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert in Colorado-03 by a few hundred votes last year, announced he’s running again

Poll position: Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, released a poll of the West Virginia Senate race showing GOP Gov. Jim Justice in the strongest position against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, per Politico.

Casey undergoes surgery: Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., underwent surgery for prostate cancer on Tuesday, and a spokesperson said Casey’s doctor “reports that, as expected, the procedure went well and he confirmed that the Senator should not require further treatment.” Casey has not yet said if is running for re-election amid his cancer diagnosis.

Help for Florida man: Club for Growth, a conservative group, is endorsing Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and plans to spend to support Scott’s re-election, per Politico. The group also took a swipe at McConnell, who has criticized Scott’s proposal to sunset all federal legislation after five years unless reapproved by Congress, including Medicare and Social Security.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Police are still struggling to identify a motive for why a gunman killed three and injured five at the campus of Michigan State University on Monday night.

The U.K. and Qatar are helping with indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran over a potential prisoner exchange, NBC News’ Dan De Luce and Abigail Williams report.

The three unidentified objects shot down over North America in recent weeks were likely commercial or benign, the White House said on Tuesday.

President Biden tapped Lael Brainard to head the National Economic Council on Tuesday, a position that will require Brainard to resign her current post at the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors.