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Nikki Haley announces 2024 presidential campaign, mounting first GOP challenge to Trump

“It’s time for a new generation of leadership,” Haley says in a video announcing her campaign.
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Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday announced her 2024 presidential campaign, making her former President Donald Trump's first opponent for the Republican nomination.

Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations for two years in the Trump administration, is expected to deliver her in-person announcement speech Wednesday in Charleston.

“It’s time for a new generation of leadership — to rediscover fiscal responsibility, secure our border, and strengthen our country, our pride and our purpose.” Haley said in her video announcement.

Haley accused the "socialist left" of seeing "an opportunity to rewrite history."

"China and Russia are on the march. They all think we can be bullied, kicked around," Haley said. "You should know this about me: I don’t put up with bullies. And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels. I’m Nikki Haley, and I’m running for president.”

Haley teased a potential presidential bid last month, saying in a Fox News interview: “Yes, we need to go in a new direction. And can I be that leader? Yes, I think I can be that leader.”

Following her presidential bid announcement, Haley is expected to travel to well-trodden ground for presidential hopefuls, including going to New Hampshire for three days of town hall-style campaign stops and several more days in Iowa after, multiple sources confirmed to NBC News this month.

After her New Hampshire visit, Haley will travel to Iowa from Feb. 20 through 23, a source familiar with her plans told NBC News. Trump announced his third presidential bid in November. The former president kicked off his campaign with stops in New Hampshire and Haley’s home state, South Carolina, last month.

Haley was celebrated as the next generation of Republicans when she ran for governor at age 38, winning as part of a wave of anti-establishment tea party candidates who swept into office in 2010.

Her personal history — as the daughter of Indian immigrants, growing up in rural Bamberg, South Carolina, and facing racism at a young age — gives Haley credibility on issues like race and gender, which Republicans have struggled to engage on with voters.

She was deeply critical of Trump during his first bid for the White House — warning that his temper could cause a world war at one point — but nonetheless accepted a role in his Cabinet shortly after his election.

The U.N. ambassadorship boosted her foreign policy credentials while the U.S. was sanctioning North Korea and pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. She left after two years, just as a government watchdog called for an investigation into whether she violated federal ethics regulations by accepting gifts as ambassador.

Since departing the Trump administration, Haley at times has criticized the former president, but has frequently praised him.

Haley issued a stern condemnation of Trump in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. In an interview with Politico in 2021, she said that she was “disgusted” by the former president’s attacks against former Vice President Mike Pence, who refused to push Trump's false claims of widespread election fraud leading up to the riot.

Haley, however, appeared to come around to her former boss again months after he left office, telling reporters in April 2021 that she would not run if Trump ran again.

“That’s something that we'll have a conversation about at some point, if that decision is something that has to be made,” she added.

Still, asked when she last spoke with the president, she was quick to note it was before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

In a statement through his campaign spokesperson Tuesday, Trump said he wishes Haley luck in response to her campaign announcement.

“Even though Nikki Haley said, ‘I would never run against my president, he was a great president, the best president in my lifetime,’ I told her she should follow her heart and do what she wants to do. I wish her luck!” he said.

South Carolina has a longtime reputation of being one of the most important early primary states. In the past 40 years, the winner of the state’s GOP primary has gone on to win the party’s presidential nomination in every election except one.

Heading into the 2024 election cycle, state political leaders told NBC News that they are gearing up to choose among two “favorite children,” a former president who has already carried the state in a deeply contested primary and potentially others who look to draw significant interest.

In addition to Haley entering the 2024 GOP presidential primary, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., appears to be building a presidential campaign infrastructure of his own. Scott is set to speak to the Charleston County GOP on Thursday before he heads out on a listening tour that will take him to Iowa, the first state on the GOP calendar in 2024.

Haley first ran for public office in 2004, defeating a longtime incumbent for a seat in the state House. In a 2012 interview, Haley credited Hillary Clinton for her decision to run for office.

"The reason I actually ran for office is because of Hillary Clinton," she said. "She said that when it comes to women running for office, there will be everybody that tells you why you shouldn’t, but that’s all the reasons why we need you to do it, and I walked out of there thinking, 'That’s it. I’m running for office.'”