Things to know about Nikki Haley, GOP presidential hopeful

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Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley greets supporters after her speech Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Republican Nikki Haley joined the 2024 race for president this week, becoming the first major rival to former President Donald Trump in a field that is expected to grow in coming months. Here are some things to know about the former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations:

‘I WAS DIFFERENT’

Haley, 51, grew up in the small rural community of Bamberg, South Carolina, the daughter of Indian immigrants. Raised in the Sikh faith by a father who wore a turban and a mother who wore a sari, she has described enduring racist taunts and feeling like she didn't fit in, an experience she says had an impact on on her personal and political life. In a video announcing her presidential bid, Haley referenced that past, saying she grew up “not Black, not white — I was different.” She also insisted — as she has in past speeches — that America is not a racist country. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” she said in her formal announcement Wednesday.

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NOTABLE FIRSTS

Before becoming South Carolina governor, Haley was an accountant and served in the state House of Representatives. In her first campaign in 2004, she defeated the state’s longest-serving House member. Three terms later, she made a longshot bid for governor and defeated a field of more veteran politicians to become the first woman and first Indian American to lead South Carolina. At 38, she also was the nation's youngest governor. Haley is the first woman to be a major candidate for president in 2024, and just the fifth Republican woman this century.

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‘DIVISIVE SYMBOL’

Haley's biggest moment on the national stage as governor came during her second term, when a self-avowed white supremacist who had been pictured holding Confederate flags murdered nine Black parishioners as they gathered for Bible study in a Charleston church. For years before the 2015 killings, Haley had resisted calls to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, even casting a rival’s push for its removal as a desperate stunt. But after the massacre and with the support of other leading Republicans, Haley advocated for legislation to remove the flag. It came down less than a month after the murders.

Haley later faced criticism for telling conservative host Glen Beck in a 2019 interview that the Charleston shooter “hijacked” the ideals many connected to the flag, including the “service, and sacrifice and heritage” it meant to some. After many responded saying that the flag represented treason and racial hatred, Haley said in a statement on Twitter that she stood by her call to remove it. In a 2020 speech to the Republican National Convention that followed weeks of protests alleging racial injustice by police, Haley called the flag a “divisive symbol” that was removed peacefully.

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HISTORY WITH TRUMP

Haley has had a hot-and-cold relationship with Trump, going from harsh critic to ardent supporter and now a 2024 rival.

During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Haley supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. She later backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. She described Trump as “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” But Haley ultimately said she would back the GOP nominee, and shortly after Trump won the presidency, she agreed to serve as the new administration’s ambassador to the United Nations. She was a whole-hearted supporter of his 2020 reelection bid. Her most recent reversal: Her decision to seek the presidency after initially saying she wouldn't challenge Trump if he ran again.