NEW YORK (AP) — Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of the powerful Koch network, formally endorsed Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign on Tuesday, promising to commit its nationwide army of activists — and virtually unlimited funds — to helping Haley defeat former President Donald Trump in the GOP primary contest.
“AFP Action is proud to throw our full support behind Nikki Haley, who offers America the opportunity to turn the page on the current political era, to win the Republican primary and defeat Joe Biden next November,” AFP president and CEO Emily Seidel wrote in a memo announcing the group’s decision.
“She has what it takes to lead a policy agenda to take on our nation’s biggest challenges and help ensure our country’s best days are ahead. With the grassroots and data capability we bring to bear in this race, no other organization is better equipped to help her do it.”
The endorsement may help Haley address one of her biggest strategic liabilities.
Despite seizing polling momentum in recent months, the former United Nations ambassador’s campaign has been lacking significant manpower on the ground in primary states to ensure her supporters turn out to vote. But now, she inherits the organizational heft of what may be the most powerful conservative grassroots organization in the nation. The Koch network, previously referred to as the Koch Brothers, has been building a network of paid conservative activists and volunteers in key states for several years.
Through this summer and fall alone, Americans for Prosperity activists have already communicated with six million primary voters, either in person at their doors or on the phone, Seidel said.
The development marks a particularly painful blow to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had championed conservative priorities in Florida, but struggled to emerge as the clear Trump alternative in the 2024 GOP primary contest. It’s unclear, however, whether the endorsement can help weaken Trump’s grip on the Republican presidential nomination given his commanding lead over DeSantis and Haley in virtually every poll.
Back in the spring, the Koch network began running ads across Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — the first three states on the GOP’s presidential primary calendar — focusing on questions about Trump’s electability in next fall’s general election against Biden. And still, Trump remains the overwhelming frontrunner in the race.
Seidel said Tuesday that Americans for Prosperity would immediately begin refocusing its efforts on boosting Haley’s primary and general election campaigns with strategic advertising investments, mailers and voter contacts through the group’s network of thousands of conservative activists, which has spent recent months collecting information from Republican primary voters to determine the most effective arguments against Trump.
At the same time, Seidel said that her organization would focus on convincing reliable general election voters, who typically don’t vote in primaries, to show up for Haley in this year’s fast-approaching nomination contests.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung dismissed Americans for Prosperity as “the political arm of the China-first, America-last movement.”
“No amount of shady money from George Soros, Democrats and Never-Trump RINOs in partnership with endless-war swamp creatures in Washington will stop the MAGA movement or President Trump from being the Republican nominee and defeating Crooked Joe Biden,” Cheung wrote in a statement responding to the Haley endorsement.
The DeSantis camp was not pleased.
In a statement, DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo likened the Koch endorsement to a contribution to the Trump campaign.
“Congratulations to Donald Trump on securing the Koch endorsement. Like clockwork, the pro-open borders, pro-jail break bill establishment is lining up behind a moderate who has no mathematical pathway of defeating the former president,” Romeo wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Every dollar spent on Nikki Haley’s candidacy should be reported as an in-kind to the Trump campaign. No one has a stronger record of beating the establishment than Ron DeSantis, and this time will be no different.”
Yet the Koch network is convinced that Haley is better positioned to defeat Trump — and Biden — than DeSantis.
In a polling memo, senior adviser Michael Palmer highlighted Haley’s “sustained momentum in recent months,” while noting that many primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are only just beginning to pay close attention to the contest.
“Gov DeSantis has been a tremendous leader of rate state of Florida,” Seidel said in a Tuesday conference call. “But all of the evidence we’ve already shared on this call point to the fact that Nikki Haley is the strongest candidate in this race and that’s why we decided to support her.”
Meanwhile, Haley said she was honored to have the support of Americans for Prosperity, “including its millions of grassroots members all across the country.”
“AFP Action’s members know that there is too much at stake in this election to sit on the sidelines,” she said in a statement. “This is a choice between freedom and socialism, individual liberty and big government, fiscal responsibility and spiraling debt. We have a country to save, and I’m grateful to have AFP Action by our side.”
AP writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina contributed.