In this photo from Aug. 23, 2023, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley stands on stage before the start of the Republican presidential debate. (Jim Vondruska/EFE via ZUMA Press/TNS)

Nikki Haley is enjoying a surge in support after a strong performance in last week’s Republican presidential debate even though many viewers thought rival Vivek Ramaswamy won the clash.

A pollster who works for former President Donald Trump’s campaign says the former U.N. envoy’s support rose significantly in surveys done after the debate in early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa.

“Haley appears to have gotten a bump from the debate, surging into double digits in Iowa and into a three-way tie for 2nd place in New Hampshire,” pollster Tony Fabrizio wrote in a memo to Trump’s campaign and donors.

Haley scored 10% support in Iowa, putting her within striking distance of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in second place at 18%.

She registered 9% in New Hampshire, tied with Ramaswamy and within the margin of error of DeSantis at 11%.

Haley grabbed attention at the debate by landing verbal jabs on Ramaswamy and several other rivals. The only woman in the race took what some analysts called a less-extreme position on abortion than others and took a rare swing at Trump by calling him the “most unliked politician” in the country.

Fabrizio stressed that Trump suffered no erosion in support and remains the dominant frontrunner with close to 50% support in both states, a finding that could vindicate the ex-president’s decision to skip the debate.

More than 70% of Trump supporters say there is no chance they could change their minds in their support for the former president.

“The commitment of President Trump’s vote … remains rock-solid,” Fabrizio said. “Those looking to peel votes from President Trump face an extreme uphill battle.”

The poll showed DeSantis failed to pick up any ground in the debate despite what some voters thought was a serviceable performance.

DeSantis escaped what was expected to be a pile-on by other candidates but often appeared to be a bystander as verbal jousts erupted between Ramaswamy and others.

“The much hoped for DeSantis ‘bounce’ was really a ‘dead cat bounce’ in that it doesn’t exist,” the memo said. “With Haley’s surge, DeSantis finds himself with another challenger for a distant 2nd place.”

So what about Ramaswamy, who grabbed most of the attention with volcanic attacks on virtually all the other candidates?

GOP voters who watched the debate or heard about it declared him the winner by a fairly wide margin.

He also rose a bit in the polls, moving up to a virtual dead heat with Haley for third place in Iowa and for second place with both Haley and DeSantis in New Hampshire.

Ramaswamy also appeared to be angling the most for the approval of Trump voters, spewing bombastic hard right positions on Russia’s war in Ukraine and climate change.

It could help him appeal to Trump himself as a potential vice presidential candidate or even a Trump-endorsed replacement if the former president is forced out of the race by his legal woes.

Dave Goldiner

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