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Haley hits back at DeSantis for labeling her an ‘establishment’ candidate as rivalry intensifies

By Ebony Davis, CNN

(CNN) — Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday slammed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for labeling her a candidate of the Republican Party “establishment,” saying his remarks were “what a candidate says when they are losing.”

“There is nothing establishment about a candidate who was the tea party candidate who ran for governor,” Haley said on Fox News, seemingly referring to her 2010 gubernatorial victory. “I think he is saying what he has to say because he is grasping at this point.”

The latest back-and-forth between Haley and DeSantis reflects the intensifying competition between the two presidential hopefuls as they seek to consolidate support and mount a challenge to the current GOP primary front-runner, former President Donald Trump, with less than seven weeks until the first nominating contest in Iowa.

Haley on Tuesday scored a coveted endorsement from Americans for Prosperity Action, the network associated with billionaire Charles Koch, further bolstering her position in the race. The endorsement was a blow to DeSantis, who responded during an interview on NewsMax that Haley was “somebody that’s going to be more aligned with establishment interests,” which he believes will negatively affect her standing with Republican voters.

The Florida governor also said the AFP doesn’t always align with conservative interests, which he said gives Haley “some synergy” with the influential group.

DeSantis has sharpened his attacks on Haley in recent days as he attempts to portray her as the establishment candidate.

Earlier this week, he criticized her during an interview on Fox News, saying the former South Carolina governor was “fundamentally out of step with Republican voters” and was “relying on liberal media to prop her up.”

Haley has also drawn criticism from other candidates in the race. During an interview Monday on MSNBC, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blasted Haley for not taking a clear enough position against Trump.

“If you’re [Haley] running for second place, tell everybody you’re running for second place,” Christie said.

Haley on Wednesday denounced the idea that she is positioning herself for the vice presidency when asked about her GOP rivals’ comments, saying, “I don’t play for second, I never have. I won’t do it now.”

“I am running against President Trump. I’m waiting for him to get on a debate stage. He can’t start acting like President Biden. He needs to get on the debate stage, and he need confront us. He needs to let us confront him and talk about the differences and go forward,” Haley said.

CNN’s Kit Maher contributed to this report.

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