IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley finally got her wish to see Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark, catching the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes in between campaign stops Saturday.
Haley walked into Carver-Hawkeye Arena alongside her son, Nalin, wearing an Iowa button on her jacket. The former South Carolina governor called Iowa coach Lisa Bluder a “rock star” and made a reference to her home-state Gamecocks, the current No. 1 women’s basketball team.
“We are used to women’s basketball in South Carolina,” Haley said. “We’re excited, so glad to be here. Go Lady Hawkeyes.” Last March, in an NCAA tournament semifinal, Clark scored 41 points as Iowa ended the perfect season of defending champion South Carolina.
At the game, Haley chatted with former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and David Bluder, the coach’s husband.
Even as some fans approached Haley as she took her seat, all eyes were on Clark, the reigning Associated Press national player of the year.
Clark, who has earned fame and fortune with her once-in-a-generation game, has about 20,000 more followers on Instagram than does Haley, a former U.N. ambassador.
Earlier Saturday, at an appearance in Coralville, Haley flubbed the Iowa star’s name, calling her “Caitlin Collins,” perhaps with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins in mind.
But there’s no doubt Haley knows all about Clark. During a stop in Ankeny in November, Haley said that if there was a way to get to a game and meet Clark, she would be there.
Campaigning in Iowa Friday and Saturday, Haley attempted to pivot from an awkward moment in New Hampshire, when she was asked at a town hall event about the reason for the Civil War and didn’t include slavery in her response. During four similar events in eastern Iowa, addressing more than 500 people in total, Haley didn’t mentioned the episode and was never asked about it during the Q&A.
Haley is hoping to build on momentum as the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses approach battling Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for what may amount to a second-place finish. Former President Donald Trump continues to be a commanding force in the party, frustrating some Iowa voters who want a more competitive race.