ALTOONA, Iowa — Nikki Haley took on Ron DeSantis directly at an Iowa town hall Sunday night, as the two battle for second place in early states in the GOP presidential race.
“While Ron is lying about me, I’m going to tell you the truth about him,” she told the crowd at the Fireside Grill in Altoona. “You have not heard me in any public meeting – the press can tell you that – I have not spoken negatively to anyone. But if you have to lie to win, you don’t deserve to win.
The feud between Haley and DeSantis, both trailing former President Donald Trump by double digits in most polls in Iowa and other states, has been escalating for weeks. Both want to position themselves as the leading alternative to Trump in the GOP presidential race.
But what was remarkable about this 90-second attack aimed at DeSantis was that Haley did it at the end of his standard speech. Although DeSantis answers questions posed to Haley, she rarely attacks him directly, and his rhetoric has remained largely unchanged for most of the campaign.
Haley’s comments Sunday began with a reference to pro-DeSantis ads.
“I see the commercials you see on TV,” she said. “Ron DeSantis has not published a single truthful ad about me.”
The super PACs supporting each candidate have launched back-and-forth attacks in recent months on issues including ties to China and support for Israel, amid the ongoing war in the Middle East.
While Haley’s campaign released a digital ad earlier this week attacking DeSantis for his stance on rights, Haley herself has not responded to DeSantis’ growing criticism of her in recent weeks.
On Sunday, after criticizing DeSantis on spending and energy policy, Haley then discussed DeSantis’ campaign with Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., in Iowa on Saturday.
“You can’t be pro-Israel and bring into this state the most anti-Israel Republican, who voted against fighting anti-Semitism on college campuses and against calling out Hamas,” Haley said. “He voted with ‘The Squad’ and that’s who he brought to your state.”
In response, DeSantis said Massie was not specifically against Israel but against all foreign aid.
“Obviously, I’ve been a big proponent of supporting Israel. I think it’s in our national interest,” the Florida governor told reporters Saturday. “But when he is accused of being specifically against Israel, that’s not true. He voted against it 100%. That’s his position. And he has very strong principles on that point and we don’t have not to agree on this point.”
In a statement, DeSantis campaign press secretary Bryan Griffin called him “the clearest and most consistent pro-Israel candidate in this race” and said Haley was “trying to distract of its history of inviting refugees from Gaza to the United States and supporting the United States.” tax money goes to the Gaza Strip. » DeSantis’ campaign hit Haley with the debunked accusation that she had wanted to take in refugees from Gaza for several months.
With the Iowa caucus less than a month away, the most recent NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of the state showed Trump leading the GOP field with 51% support, followed by DeSantis at 19% and Haley at 16%, with the fight for second place within the margin of error.