Former Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a moderate Republican who decided not to enter the party’s presidential primary last year but has not ruled out a third-party run, backed Nikki Haley on Sunday as the anti-Trump minority of the G.O.P. coalesces around her.
“I think it’s time for the party to get behind Nikki Haley,” Mr. Hogan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
He explained his support entirely in terms of polling.
“Ron DeSantis has put all the marbles on Iowa and spent all his time and money and seems to be going in the wrong direction,” said Mr. Hogan, who has been a prominent critic of Mr. Trump. “I think Nikki Haley’s got all the momentum. And what this race is really all about is to try to nominate the strongest possible nominee for November. I’m convinced that the momentum is with Nikki Haley.”
When the host, Jake Tapper, asked if that was an endorsement, Mr. Hogan said, “I think we want to have the strongest possible nominee in November. Polls show that that is Nikki Haley.”
As Mr. DeSantis’s poll numbers have slipped, a number of prominent Republicans who want someone other than former President Donald J. Trump on the ballot in November have urged like-minded voters to unite behind Ms. Haley. Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire endorsed her last month and big donors are flocking to her as well.
Supporters of Ms. Haley hope that she can drive Mr. DeSantis out of the race if she beats him for second place in Iowa. A new poll released Saturday evening indicates that she is narrowly ahead of him.
Mr. DeSantis has poured millions of dollars into Iowa and won the endorsements of its governor and the influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. A third-place finish would be a significant blow and leave him struggling for momentum heading into New Hampshire.
A second-place finish for Ms. Haley — even if it is miles behind Mr. Trump — could lift her going into New Hampshire, where the former president’s lead is smaller. And after New Hampshire, the race’s focus shifts to her home state, South Carolina.
Mr. Hogan recently stepped down from a leadership position with the group No Labels, which is seeking ballot access for a third-party candidate, prompting speculation that he was preparing for a run. In the CNN interview, he did not entirely rule out doing that if Republicans were to nominate Mr. Trump; he said No Labels would “wait and see if we’re stuck with these two bad choices,” referring to Mr. Trump and President Biden.
“I wouldn’t want to be associated with anything that would be a spoiler for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden,” he said, but added, “We will just have to wait and see.”