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Billionaire Charles Koch throws his support to GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

According to polls, the GOP race for 2024 continues to show former President Donald Trump as the consistent favorite. Now, with just under seven weeks until the first contest of the GOP primary season, billionaire Republican donor Charles Koch is looking to change that. Koch's political network, Americans for Prosperity Action, is throwing its weight behind former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who's been steadily rising in popularity among Republicans. Here to tell us what the endorsement means is GOP strategist Ron Bonjean. Ron, so how big of a win is this for Nikki Haley?

RON BONJEAN: Hey, it's great to be here. This is a huge win for Nikki Haley. To have the grassroots mobilization of support from Americans for Prosperity is significant. She does not have the infrastructure or the funding to keep the momentum going in her campaign to get out the vote, which is going to be really important in these primary states. And what AFP does is they bring a lot of resources to the table, get out, you know, in terms of grassroots mobilization. So it's really a boost for her and, frankly, a blow to Ron DeSantis, who was hoping to get this endorsement.

MARTÍNEZ: The money aspect of this - what does that mean in terms of dollars - more commercials, more ads, more campaign workers? What does that mean?

BONJEAN: I think it means all of the above. It really depends on where AFP is going to put their money, but it's really about getting out the vote. So that means it's going to be some ads. I'm sure there's going to be, you know, a lot of enthusiasm generated by AFP to get their volunteers out and to help organize the get-out-the-vote effort. That's something any candidate would absolutely, you know, give anything to have, and Nikki Haley now has it. The question is can she, you know, surmount Donald Trump's massive lead. And, you know, the time to endorse Nikki Haley is now. The timing is right because you know, any more moment - any more days that go by, you really lose momentum in developing that infrastructure.

MARTÍNEZ: How many Republican voters, Ron, would you say, look at Charles Koch's endorsement and say, maybe I should send my donation Nikki Haley's way?

BONJEAN: You know, that's a really great question. I think it really depends on how the volunteers, the AFP volunteers, you know, work on getting out the vote and drumming up the enthusiasm. You know, I don't know if there's strong name ID with Charles Koch and voters out there, but there is huge identification on the ground between the volunteers that know their local communities and know how to work - you know, work their precincts in getting out that vote. And that's what's really matters.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned how much of a blow this is to Ron DeSantis. How does he spin this?

BONJEAN: Well, it's really difficult for him. I've seen DeSantis be critical of this decision, you know, trying to redirect it and throw some cold water on AFP and the Koch network. However, they did endorse Ron DeSantis in another capacity, I think, you know, when he was running for governor of Florida.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

BONJEAN: So, I mean, it's really difficult for him to criticize this decision. If I were him, I would just focus on continuing to try to get out my message.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the one name we haven't mentioned yet is Donald Trump. And a spokesman for Donald Trump dismissed the news. How worried, though, should the Trump campaign be, considering that, you know, the Iowa caucuses are coming up? And he still has a big lead, though.

BONJEAN: Yeah, he definitely has a big lead, and I wouldn't take anything for granted as a front-runner. And I think that's why they're responding to this endorsement and trying to be really critical of it, to communicate to Trump voters that he's still - you know, he's still confident he can win this primary. So, you know, if I were them, I would be concerned about, you know, a candidate getting this type of organizational support.

MARTÍNEZ: Concerned privately but publicly still blustering, I would assume, right?

BONJEAN: Right. Absolutely.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

BONJEAN: You have to do that.

MARTÍNEZ: GOP strategist Ron Bonjean, thanks a lot.

BONJEAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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