Nikki Haley ‘courts’ Iowa voters in basketball arena
On Saturday, Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley fulfilled her desire to watch Iowa's basketball sensation Caitlin Clark play, as she squeezed in a visit to the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes amid her campaign trail.
Haley entered the Carver-Hawkeye Arena with her son, Nalin, sporting an Iowa button on her jacket.
The ex-governor of South Carolina praised Iowa coach Lisa Bluder as a “rock star” and also mentioned her own state's Gamecocks, who are the top-ranked women's basketball team in the nation.
“We are used to women's basketball in South Carolina,” Haley said. “We're excited, so glad to be here. Go Lady Hawkeyes.”
In a stunning performance last March, Clark scored 41 points to help Iowa knock out the unbeaten South Carolina, the defending champions, in the NCAA tournament semifinal.
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Haley mingled with former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and David Bluder, the husband of the coach, at the game.
While some fans greeted Haley as she settled in her seat, the spotlight was on Clark, who was named the national player of the year by the Associated Press.
Clark, who has become a celebrity and a millionaire with her extraordinary skills, has around 20,000 more followers on Instagram than Haley, who once served as the U.N. ambassador.
However, Haley made a blunder earlier on Saturday, when she mispronounced Clark's name as “Caitlin Collins,” possibly confusing her with CNN's Kaitlan Collins, at a rally in Coralville.
In November, during a stop in Ankeny, Haley said that she would love to attend a game and meet Clark, if she had the opportunity.
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Haley also tried to move on from a clumsy moment in New Hampshire, when she failed to mention slavery as a cause of the Civil War, in response to a question at a town hall meeting. Haley did not bring up the incident and no one asked her about it during the Q&A sessions at four similar events in eastern Iowa, where she spoke to more than 500 people in total.
Haley is aiming to gain momentum as the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15 draw near, competing with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the second spot. Former President Donald Trump remains a dominant figure in the party, much to the dismay of some Iowa voters who seek a more open race.