Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, Allan Smith and Ali Vitali, who reported extensively on Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign, dig into the battle to win over her supporters. Plus, Chuck Todd explains why the next weeks could be a critical stretch as Joe Biden and Donald Trump turn toward a general election rematch.

The fight for Haley’s supporters is underway

By Allan Smith and Ali Vitali

Nikki Haley’s campaign is over, but the fight to win over her supporters has just begun. 

With Donald Trump and Joe Biden essentially set in stone as their parties’ presidential nominees, the Haley voting bloc will now have to come to terms with a choice many wished they wouldn’t have to make. 

And Trump and Biden’s initial pitches to these voters couldn’t sound more different.

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Trump wrote on Truth Social that Haley “got TROUNCED” on Super Tuesday “in record setting fashion,” adding, “Much of her money came from Radical Left Democrats, as did many of her voters.” Later, he said he “would further like to invite all of the Haley supporters to join the greatest movement in the history of our Nation.”

Meanwhile, Biden said in a statement: “Donald Trump made it clear he doesn’t want Nikki Haley’s supporters. I want to be clear: There is a place for them in my campaign.”

What’s more, a Biden campaign official told NBC News the finance teams for Biden and the Democratic National Committee have recently done outreach to Haley donors, including efforts led by Hollywood mogul and Biden national co-chair Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Haley’s coalition was bolstered by crossover voters jumping into open primaries looking to stick it to Trump. While they made up the minority in the GOP primary, strategists on both sides acknowledged that a segment of her supporters could prove key in close battleground states. 

NBC News exit polling on Super Tuesday showed stark divides between Trump and Haley backers on key questions. In Virginia and North Carolina, roughly half of Haley’s supporters said they approved of Biden’s job performance as president — higher than the public as a whole. On the other hand, virtually none of Trump’s backers approved of Biden’s performance.

A New York Times/Siena College poll released Saturday showed nearly half of Haley’s supporters — 48% — voted for Biden in 2020, versus 31% who said they backed Trump then.

And as NBC News’ Steve Kornacki wrote, Trump’s poor performance with independent voters in early GOP primaries may be more the result of “resistance”-leaning independents being motivated to participate in them than a reflection of the opinions of independent voters overall.

Still, there may be a group of Haley voters now looking for a home who could prove pivotal to either candidate’s coalition — particularly voters who dislike both men or have concerns about their advanced age.

Read the full story here →

Why these next few weeks could be the critical stretch in a Biden-Trump rematch

Analysis by Chuck Todd

This general election is going to be nasty. It’s going to be personal. And by the time the two campaigns are done pummeling each other, I suspect Trump supporters are going to assume Biden is at death’s door, while Biden supporters are going to assume the Constitution will be suspended the day of a second Trump inauguration.

 The real question, of course, is which negative attacks will actually stick in the minds of voters who aren’t hard partisans and aren’t predisposed to assume the worst about both candidates. And the next six weeks should tell us a lot about how much a paid anti-Trump media campaign can move Biden’s numbers.

Given the financial advantage Biden enjoys over Trump, it would be malpractice if the Biden campaign didn’t try to press that advantage immediately. Right now, this campaign has a “referendum on Biden” vibe to it, a fairly natural occurrence at this point in an incumbent’s re-election effort. The challenger — in this case Trump — is the one constantly on the trail and in the news, and his victories are giving him a bit of a “winner’s” halo effect.

Just ask Presidents Dukakis, Romney and Kerry how long that lasts, though. All had moments when they appeared to have successfully made the campaign about the other guy (and their party). That is, until the incumbent’s campaign had its say and started to spend its money.

One of the hallmarks of Trump’s campaigns is his ability to project his own weaknesses on his opponent. One of the more effective hits on Trump is to portray him as a chaos agent, unable or unwilling to prevent, say, a Jan. 6 protest from turning into a full-on insurrection. Of course, Trump knows this — which is why he regularly portrays the border or things happening overseas as “chaotic” or “out of control” on Biden’s watch.

I’m curious to see how Biden’s team navigates this attempt at inoculation. One of the great challenges it has is convincing the middle of the electorate to vote for Biden a second time, arguing that this time, the chaos Biden pledged to put behind the nation in 2020 will truly end. Will these voters believe that?

 Read the full story here →

🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • 🚂 Getting on board: Mitch McConnell endorsed Trump shortly after Haley dropped out of the GOP race. The Senate minority leader was the highest-profile Republican who had yet to back the former president, though 12 of the party’s senators still haven’t thrown their support behind Trump. Read more →
  • 🔢 Data dive: The NBC News exit polls shed some light on the coalition that fueled Trump’s romp through Super Tuesday’s primaries — and where his weak spots could be in November. Read more →
  • 🎤 Are the debates back on? After skipping the GOP primary debates, Trump said he will debate Biden “anytime, anywhere, anyplace” ahead of the general election. Read more →
  • 👋 Bowing out: Dean Phillips ended his long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and endorsed Biden. The congressman failed to gain traction even in Minnesota, his home state , finishing behind the president and “uncommitted” on Super Tuesday. Read more →
  • 🌵 Meanwhile, in Arizona: Politico reports that Arizona’s 2020 election probe is accelerating, with prosecutors issuing grand jury subpoenas to multiple people linked to Trump’s last campaign. Read more →
  • ⏭️ Next up: One of the next big down-ballot primaries takes place in Ohio on March 19, where the Trump-backed Bernie Moreno is trying to fend off two GOP Senate primary opponents. The winner will face Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown in one of the most critical Senate races of the year. Read more →
  • 💵 Pinching pennies: Elon Musk, one of the richest men in the world, said he will not donate to either the Trump or Biden campaign. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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