(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump says he wants to bring the factories back. Nikki Haley did just that in South Carolina when she was governor. It may not save her from a home-state defeat in Saturday’s Republican primary.

Without a win in the first handful of contests, Haley is vowing to stay in the race even if she racks up another double-digit loss here, as the statewide polls predict she will.

On the campaign trail, Haley is staking out differences with Trump on issues like support for Ukraine or the need to trim federal spending — and making the case for a younger president who’d be the first woman to hold the job. Another key part of the pitch: touting the Palmetto state’s economic success on her watch, often with big manufacturing names attached.

“By the time I left we were building planes with Boeing, we were building more BMWs than any place in the world, we brought in Mercedes Benz, we brought in Volvo,” she told a rally Wednesday in the historic coastal town of Beaufort. “They were referring to us as the Beast of the Southeast.”

In conversations with voters across South Carolina — a GOP stronghold that hasn’t backed a Democrat for the White House since Jimmy Carter in 1976 — two things emerge. First, there’s plenty of appreciation for Haley and her track record of building up industry. Second, it’s not enough to sway some of her admirers when it comes to the primary vote.

‘Cut a Man’s Legs Out’

Mike Cox has lived in Anderson, South Carolina — nicknamed the Electric City — for more than half a century. He’s happy to credit Haley with boosting jobs and manufacturing, including the expansion of BMW’s plant near Spartanburg, an hour or so up the road. He’s not so happy with Haley campaign ads he’s seen lately taking aim at Trump, her former boss.

“There’s nothing about what she’s done in the past in South Carolina,” says Cox, who’s 73 and backing Trump in the primary. “You don't sit there and cut a man's legs out from up under him. And that's one thing that's turned me against her.”

Haley and her backers have blanketed the state with commercials this month, spending $6.4 million on broadcast television alone — about 15 times what the Trump campaign has spent. Her main targets are Charleston and Columbia, the two largest markets.

Almost half of voters in South Carolina’s coastal counties support Haley, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll this week, suggesting she could pick up delegates there even if she loses the state.

Haley’s team says job growth dating to her time as governor has attracted lots of incomers. Bolstering the turnout among those newer residents — who may not have voted in past South Carolina primaries — is a particular focus for the campaign, says Katon Dawson, an outside adviser to Haley and former state GOP chair. 

‘This Modern Generation’

One of Haley’s core arguments is that she’d do better than Trump in a November matchup with Democratic incumbent Joe Biden, because she has more appeal to swing voters. There’s some evidence for that in the polls — she outperforms among Democrats and independents, as well as college graduates — and also from Lafayette Fletcher in Columbia.

The 26-year-old, who’s lived in South Carolina all her life, says she cast her ballot for Biden in the Democratic primary and would back the president against Trump in November. But she’d have a harder time deciding between Biden and Haley.

“She’s younger so I feel as though she will be able to speak for this modern generation,” Fletcher says outside the capital’s State House as the sun begins to set.  “I would like to see a woman in the White House, for representation."

Fletcher is lukewarm about Haley’s local achievements — “things weren’t terrible when she was governor, though there were things that could have been better” — but has issues with Biden’s record as president too, citing his efforts to cut student debt. “I feel like he did more for the college kids,” she says. “I feel like he forgot about everybody else.”

‘He Resonates So Much’

Greenville, a charming Southern city with a bustling downtown of red brick streets and a growing reputation for quality cuisine, is widely seen as a success story. Gordon Gibson says Haley played a big part in that. He didn’t vote for her as governor the first time around, but was a convert by the time she won a second term.

In South Carolina and the US in general, even recent revivals in manufacturing aren’t likely to make it an employer on the scale of the past. Still, Gibson points out that when factories arrive they help lift other industries, too.

“She brought in a lot of business and the state prospered,” says Gibson, who’s 77 and plans to vote for Haley, after twice backing Trump for president. "I'm in the apartment business. That depends very heavily on increased employment, and so she did a good job," Gibson says. But he expects the people who actually got the new factory jobs will lean toward Trump.

Bill Looby, a 56-year-old Greenville native, agrees. He’s undecided over the primary, saying that Haley’s backing among legislators and other prominent locals gives him pause. As for Trump: “I'm still not 100% convinced his policies are the best for the blue-collar worker. But I feel like he resonates so much with them that I don't think there's any memory of what Nikki Haley did to bring industry here.”

There’s support for that idea from political science professor Jordan Ragusa at the College of Charleston, who highlights all the other factors that go into voter decisions.

“I don’t think someone who works at Boeing is going to say, ‘Well, I’m an evangelical Christian, I’m a social conservative, I don’t have a college degree, but Nikki Haley brought Boeing to South Carolina so I’m going to vote for her for that reason’,” Ragusa says.

‘I mean, Come On’

It’s not hard to find voters in Greenville who don’t think much of either Trump or Haley — or, for that matter, Biden.

Haley’s economic legacy is not what stands out to Dwayne McMillan, a busker playing blues guitar Tuesday overlooking Greenville's famous Reedy River Falls — a popular family spot where kids toss their shoes and wade through the cool waters. Rather, it’s her stumble when talking about the Civil War in December, when she said the cause of the war was government interference in people's freedoms. Haley later backtracked and attributed the conflict to slavery, but not before widespread criticism.

“She acted like she didn't know,” says McMillan, 61. “I mean, come on. So it's an affront to me.” Originally a Democrat, he’s thinking of changing his registration to independent, no longer sure any one party has all the answers. That doesn’t mean he’s leaning toward either GOP candidate. McMillan says he knows some Black Americans who “believe in” Trump, but he doesn’t get it himself. “How can I like someone that doesn't like me? His family has been sued for housing discrimination, like more than once.”

Erin Waltz, a 40-year-old property management professional, concedes that Greenville is a Southern boomtown, but bristles when asked if Haley can take credit. It’s an older story, she says, pointing to decades-long efforts by local leaders — and anyway, with traffic and infrastructure getting strained, “it's not like a great thing in the first place.”

Leaning progressive on some questions, Waltz says she’s particularly turned off by Haley's stance on issues facing women, including abortion rights. Overall, she’s not impressed by the 2024 presidential field: “I don't like any of our options.”

‘If She Can Just Hold Out…’

Traditionally, a candidate who loses their home state drops out — especially one who didn’t win anywhere else either.

This year might be different. Haley is vowing to stay in the race until at least Super Tuesday on March 5, when more than a dozen states hold primaries. Trailing in some locations by as much as 60 percentage points, she continues to bring in money from deep-pocketed Wall Street donors.

That could be enough to keep her in the race and preserve an outside shot of cashing in on Trump’s legal troubles — which is essentially her strategy, according to University of South Carolina political science professor Kirk Randazzo. 

“If she can just hold out long enough, then with all of the other baggage that Donald Trump has, it may start having an impact on how voters see him,” says Randazzo. “In which case, if Nikki Haley is still around, she becomes the viable alternative.”

Before all of that, there’s the prospect of a bruising loss on home soil. Here’s how Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, sums up the South Carolina GOP race.

“Haley was a popular governor,” he says. “People still like her. But they just love Trump.”

--With assistance from Marie Monteleone.

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