Pitching for a strong and proud America, Indian-origin Republican leader Nikki Haley formally launched her 2024 presidential bid on February 15, casting herself as a younger and fresher alternative to the 20th century politicians like her one-time boss and former president Donald Trump.
Ms. Haley, 51, is the two-term Governor of South Carolina and the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Addressing her enthusiastic supporters at a well-attended event here in the coastal city of South Carolina, Ms. Haley said: “I’m more confident than ever that we can make this vision real in our time – because that’s what I’ve seen my entire life. As a brown girl, growing up in a black-and-white world, I saw the promise of America unfold before me.”
In her speech, Ms. Haley leaned on her experience at the U.N., her background as the child of Indian immigrants and asserted, “Take it from me, America is not a racist country.”
Ms. Haley was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in Bamberg, South Carolina in 1972 to Sikh parents Ajit Singh Randhawa and Raj Kaur Randhawa, who had emigrated from Punjab to Canada and then to the U.S. in the 1960s.
She was raised as a Sikh but converted to Christianity after her marriage to Michael Haley in 1996.
“I see America leading the world – in freedom and peace. But this vision isn’t just mine. It’s the core of our nation’s history and it called to my parents over fifty years ago. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants,” she said.
Speaking about her experiences of growing up in the U.S., Ms. Haley said: ”My parents left India in search of a better life. They found it in Bamberg, South Carolina – population, 2,500. Our little town came to love us, but it wasn’t always easy. We were the only Indian family. Nobody knew who we were, what we were, or why we were there.”
She declared: "For a strong America... For a proud America... I am running for President of the United States of America!".
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"When America is distracted, the world is less safe... And today, our enemies think the American era has passed. They’re wrong. America is not past its prime. It’s just that our politicians are past theirs!
"We won’t win the fight for the 21st Century if we keep trusting politicians from the 20th Century. And so, I have an announcement to make. I stand before you as the daughter of immigrants – as a proud wife of a combat veteran – and as the mom of two amazing children," she said at the event with a huge 'NikkiHaley For President' backdrop.
Her formal declaration means she will be the first contender to join the contest against her former 76-year-old boss Mr. Trump, who announced his third bid for the White House late last year.
Before entering the presidential ballot, Ms. Haley has to win the Republican Party's presidential primary which will start in January next year.
The next U.S. presidential election is scheduled to be held on November 5, 2024.
U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has not yet indicated if he will seek reelection.
Mr. Biden, 80, is the oldest sitting U.S. president.
"We’re ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past... And we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future!" Ms. Haley said.
Ms. Haley launched a scathing attack on Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also of Indian origin.
“On Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris’s watch, a self-loathing has swept our country,” she alleged.
“They have us spiralling toward socialism, with a new trillion-dollar spending bill every few months, and a national debt over 30 trillion dollars,” she said.
“Make no mistake: This is not the America I will leave to my children! We must stop socialism, before it’s too late. It’s weakening America from within,” said Ms. Haley, who if elected would be the first Indian-American and first woman to be elected U.S. president.
Mr. Haley was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in Bamberg, South Carolina in 1972 to Sikh parents Ajit Singh Randhawa and Raj Kaur Randhawa, who emigrated from Punjab to Canada and then to the U.S. in the 1960s.
She is the third Indian-American to run for the U.S. presidency in three consecutive election cycles.
Bobby Jindal ran in 2016 and Vice President Kamala Harris in 2020.
She is the second woman of colour to ever seek the Republican Party's nomination for the White House.
The first was Angel Joy Chavis Rocker, a school counsellor from Florida, who entered the 2000 presidential race, becoming the first African-American to do so.
Ms. Haley, in her speech, said real national unity comes from boldly proclaiming national purpose, asserting that "America is not a racist country".
"My purpose is to save our country from the downward spiral of socialism and defeatism. I aim to move America upward toward freedom and strength," she said.
At 39, she was the youngest governor in the U.S. when she took office in January 2011, and made history as South Carolina's first female governor. She was also the state's first Indian-American governor and would go on to serve for two terms.
From January 2017 to December 2018, she served as the 29th U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"I have a particular message for my fellow Republicans. We’ve lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. Well, that ends today," she said.
"If you’re tired of losing, then put your trust in a new generation. And if you want to win – not just as a party, but as a country – then stand with me!" she added.
Ms. Haley had famously said previously that she would not challenge Mr. Trump if he ran again, before changing her stance, arguing the U.S. needs to look towards a different path.
“It’s time for a new generation. It’s time for new leadership. And it’s time to take our country back. America is worth the fight — and we’re just getting started," she tweeted last month.
In an interview with Fox News last month, she said the U.S. needs a “new leader” who can take the country in a new direction.
"We cannot have another term of Joe Biden. And we have to remember, too, we have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president. It is time that we get a Republican in there that can lead and can win a general election," she had said.
The top pro-Trump super PAC acknowledged on Tuesday former ambassador Ms. Haley's presidential campaign announcement, dismissing her as a "career politician."
Make America Great Again Inc. executive and former Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich released a statement on behalf of the super PAC mocking Ms. Haley and her presidential bid.
"Nikki Haley is just another career politician," Mr. Budowich said.
"She started out as a Never Trumper before resigning to serve in the Trump admin. She then resigned early to go rake in money on corporate boards," Mr. Budowich was quoted as saying by Fox News.