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Nikki Haley speaks with reporters during an interview
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley during an interview in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 5, 2024.Jamie Kelter Davis for NBC News

Eyes on November: Haley navigates her rise ahead of first contest

Haley told NBC News on Thursday that she wants a "strong" showing in Iowa, but did not define what that would look like.

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With just a few days to go until the Iowa caucuses, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley got some good news on Thursday when a new poll from Suffolk University showed her rising to second place in the Hawkeye State, though still trailing former President Donald Trump by more than 30 points.

For Haley, the Iowa caucuses are about not setting any expectations, NBC’s Natasha Korecki, Katherine Doyle, Garrett Haake and Matt Dixon report. She has consistently said she wants a “strong” showing in Iowa and the other early states, but has not defined what that would look like. 

“We don’t know what strong looks like until we see the results, right?” Haley told NBC News on Thursday. “But I think it’s important that if we show that we’re strong in Iowa, that gives us momentum going into New Hampshire. That’s what I’m focused on for Monday.” 

Haley has been closing in on Trump in New Hampshire, and she could get a boost from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s supporters now that he’s out of the race. On Thursday, Haley dismissed Christie’s comments caught on a hot mic that she is “going to get smoked” and “not up to this,” telling NBC’s Haake and Olympia Sonnier: “We know that our goal is not to worry about petty things that others say. It’s more about, what do we need to do to get that next vote?”

Meanwhile, the battle between Haley and Trump is heating up on the New Hampshire airwaves ahead of the Jan. 23 primary. SFA Fund Inc., a super PAC backing Haley, launched a new ad more aggressively targeting Trump, with a narrator saying, “One temper tantrum after another, his entire campaign based on revenge.”

And the Trump campaign launched a new ad targeting Haley over Social Security, featuring her comments that she supports raising the retirement age to qualify for benefits.  

In other campaign news … 

Loosening up: Biden’s advisers have encouraged him to loosen up to assuage concerns about his age, NBC’s Monica Alba and Mike Memoli report. “That means more informal remarks, unannounced stops at diners and appearances in social media posts and on podcasts, as well as fewer ties and Rose Garden ceremonies,” they write.

Abortion politics: The Associated Press reports that abortion has not been a top issue ahead of the GOP caucuses in Iowa, which is unusual for a state with so many evangelical voters. But its absence shows that GOP candidates and voters are concerned the issue could be problematic for Republicans in 2024. 

Impeachment politics: GOP candidates largely are not bringing up the House GOP’s impeachment inquiry into Biden on the campaign trail, NBC’s Jake Traylor reports.   

Trump trial: Trump spoke in a New York court on Thursday, addressing the judge after closing arguments in his civil fraud trial and calling the case “a fraud on me,” per NBC’s Adam Reiss and Dareh Gregorian. The judge said he hopes to rule in the case by Jan. 31. 

Trump talk: An NBC News analysis of Trump’s social media posts found that the former president focused more of his posts on his legal challenges rather than his presidential campaign, and that his attacks on the judicial system would spike around key rulings, per NBC’s Gregorian and Jasmine Cui. 

Taking on Trump: The Democratic group American Bridge 21st Century is planning a $140 million ad campaign featuring voter testimonials, “aimed at reminding women and working-class voters why they voted against Trump in 2020,” per the Washington Post. 

Candidate wanted: No Labels, a group considering mounting a third-party presidential campaign if the election comes down to Biden vs. Trump again, is actively engaging former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about joining the group’s ticket, NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard and Shaquille Brewster report. Meanwhile, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is stepping away from his role with the group, Hillyard reports. 

A growing electorate: The Asian American eligible voting population grew by 15% since the last presidential election cycle, NBC’s Kimmy Yam reports, compared to just a 3% growth rate among all eligible voters.

House battle through Colorado: North Carolina GOP Rep. Richard Hudson, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters Thursday that Colorado GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert’s decision to seek re-election in a different, more Republican district gives Republicans “a better shot” at retaining her seat. 

Plan your vote: NBC News’ new interactive tool has all of the information you need to vote, wherever you live.