Her supporters tend to be moderate and college educated — precisely the type of voters who have helped decide recent presidential races. We spoke with nearly 40 to see where they’re leaning.

Katie Glueck and

Katie Glueck and Anjali Huynh interviewed nearly 40 Nikki Haley supporters in Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Summerville and Charleston, S.C.

Many Americans are dreading a Trump-Biden rematch, but no one feels the anguish quite like a Nikki Haley voter.

“She would make a great president, and the alternatives are not appealing,” said Patti Gramling, 72, standing outside a bustling early-voting site on Wednesday in an upscale suburb of Charleston, S.C. “Biden is too old. And I think Donald Trump is horrible.”

Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is learning the limits of relying on moderate, college-educated and Trump-skeptical voters in today’s Republican Party. Former President Donald J. Trump is widely expected to defeat her, perhaps by a large margin, in her home-state primary on Saturday.

She has vowed to press on, but a crucial new equation is emerging in 2024’s electoral math: Where would her voters — and voters like them in key battlegrounds across the country — go in a general election contest between Mr. Trump and President Biden?

“The million-dollar question is, will they vote, will they sit it out — or will they vote for Joe Biden?” former Gov. Jim Hodges, a South Carolina Democrat, said of Ms. Haley’s centrist supporters in the state. “A moderate Republican voter in Charleston is not all that different than a moderate Republican voter in the Milwaukee suburbs.”

In recent interviews with nearly 40 Haley supporters across South Carolina’s Lowcountry, primarily conducted in historically more moderate enclaves of the state, many fell into what pollsters call the “double haters” camp — voters who don’t like either expected nominee.

“It just infuriates me that we have the choices that we do,” said Roberta Gilman, a former teacher and a resident of affluent Mount Pleasant, S.C., who is in her 70s.

Roughly half of those interviewed, including Ms. Gilman, said that in a Biden-Trump matchup, they would side with the Republican, while expressing varying degrees of discomfort. That number would almost certainly be higher in the actual results of the general election, after Americans have retreated further into partisan corners.

Others, like Ms. Gramling, made it clear that Mr. Trump — who has driven many moderate and suburban voters out of his party over the last eight years — faces even graver challenges with those Americans now.

“Everything about him bothers me — his arrogance, his lack of support of the military,” said Ms. Gramling, who was also a teacher. She supported Mr. Trump in 2016 before backing Mr. Biden in 2020 and would back the Democrat again over Mr. Trump. “Everything that he does is uncalled for.”

Here’s how some of these Haley voters are thinking through a choice they hope they won’t have to make:

America has very few persuadable voters left, and that may be especially true in a Biden-Trump rematch. Both men have been on the national stage for decades, and voters formed opinions of them long ago.

But a few Haley voters who said they had supported Mr. Trump in 2020 stressed that they would not do so again. They cited his behavior after his defeat, including his election denialism that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Any erosion in 2020 support for either Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden could prove consequential this year, especially with third-party candidates in the mix.

“If he was my choice, or Biden was my choice, I would have no choice,” said Julia Trout, 55, of Mount Pleasant, adding that she had always voted for the Republican ticket but would probably sit out a Biden-Trump matchup.

Asked what had changed her views on Mr. Trump since 2020, she replied, “the insurrection.”

“What would we do if we had another civil war?” she said. “If we can support something like that insurrection, there’s no telling what could happen.”

Mr. Trump, she said, is not a politician — “he’s a tyrant.”

Jeff Heikkinen, 41, a caddie who lives in Summerville, S.C., said he had supported Mr. Trump in past elections but was troubled by his personal attacks on Ms. Haley involving her husband, a National Guardsman, and her background as the daughter of Indian immigrants.

“He’s just trying so hard to separate people, making fun of her husband rather than be a grown-up,” he said. If his choices were Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, he added, “I probably wouldn’t vote — I’m just that disenchanted with both of them.”

Joy Hunter, 64, of Summerville, declined to share how she had voted in the last election — though she said she had “never voted Democrat” — but ruled out supporting Mr. Trump this year, citing, in part, the Capitol riot.

“I know people say, ‘Just ignore his character and instead focus on what he’s done,’ but I don’t know that you can separate entirely a person’s character from their policies,” Ms. Hunter said. She added of Ms. Haley, “I’m going to beg her not to drop out.”

Andrew Osborne, 58, a retired business owner from Summerville, said he disliked Mr. Trump “with a passion,” declaring: “I could not take four more years of him. In fact, I’d probably consider leaving the country if that was our alternative.”

He would theoretically consider a Democrat, he said, because of his moderate positions on issues like abortion rights and gun rights.

But in a choice between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, he said, he would still vote for the Republican, citing concerns about Mr. Biden’s age.

Mr. Osborne pointed to the release of a special counsel’s report that described Mr. Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and a verbal slip Mr. Biden made soon after, referring to the president of Egypt as the “president of Mexico.”

“He’s a similar age to my father-in-law, and I love him to death, but I wouldn’t trust him to make me a cup of coffee,” Mr. Osborne said. “This is the commander in chief of the last superpower.”

The interviews highlighted just how polarized the nation has become and underscored the limits of Mr. Biden’s bipartisan appeal, something he had in small but significant measures in 2020.

Joe Mayo, 72, a retired operator at a nuclear power plant who now lives in Mount Pleasant, called Mr. Trump “arrogant” and “stupid” and said that he did not “represent my thoughts about the way business should be done.”

But if he is the Republican nominee, Mr. Mayo said, he will still support him, because “the Democratic Party is worse than Donald Trump.”

He is hardly alone: A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that 82 percent of Haley voters overall said they would back Mr. Trump if he faced Mr. Biden.

Lynn Harrison Dyer, a businesswoman in her 60s from Mount Pleasant, noted proudly that she was the daughter of a World War II veteran and said she was supporting Ms. Haley in part because she “honors the military.”

Mr. Trump, she noted, has denigrated veterans.

“That goes against everything I truly believe in,” she said. “I honor and respect the military.”

But in a Trump-Biden contest, she said, she would support Mr. Trump, describing worries about Mr. Biden’s age.

Mr. Biden is 81 and Mr. Trump is 77, but polls show the age issue tends to hurt Mr. Biden more.

“I’ve seen time and time again when he’s speaking — it’s deeply concerning to me,” she said, politely adding, “I don’t mean any disrespect for his age whatsoever.”

South Carolina’s open primary system allows voters to participate in either party’s contest. In interviews, some Democrats who voted early said they had voted for Ms. Haley to try to slow Mr. Trump’s march to the nomination, not because they were sold on her candidacy.

But a number of voters who said they typically supported Democrats added that, for now, they would prefer Ms. Haley over Mr. Biden in a hypothetical general-election matchup, even though they would back him over Mr. Trump.

Their desire for change suggests both a weakness for Mr. Biden and a lost opportunity for Republicans.

“I like Nikki Haley,” said Brenda LaMont, 65, an options trader who lives in Charleston. “She understands world affairs. I think she’s a strong leader. And I’m certainly going to vote for a woman if I get the chance.”

And, she added: “I’m not as Democrat as I used to be. I do believe it has gotten a little too liberal.”

Scott Soenen, 47, a financial adviser who lives in Mount Pleasant, is a political independent who thinks Ms. Haley would offer a “fresh change.”

He also said that he worried “just a little bit” about the migrant crisis, saying it was “not as un-bad, for lack of a better term, as the Biden administration wants us to think.”

At an upscale gastropub in Beaufort, S.C., on Wednesday night, Jeannie Benjamin, 63, was having dinner after attending a sedate sunset rally for Ms. Haley.

Ms. Haley had impressed her, she said, and despite her Democratic leanings, she was concerned about Mr. Biden’s ability to handle the pressures of the presidency at his age. He would be 86 at the end of a second term.

Asked about the prospect of a Biden-Trump rematch, she lamented, “That’s the problem.”

“One person’s getting old, and I do think he has some issues,” she said. “And then the other one is the worst person on earth to have in your White House.”

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