Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley moved closer Wednesday to the widely-expected launch of her US presidential campaign -- previewing a "big announcement" that looks certain to confirm her as an early rival to frontrunner Donald Trump in the race for the Republican nomination.
Casting herself as a younger, fresher alternative to the former president, Haley has been hinting at a possible run for weeks, posting a video on social media declaring that America is ready for "a new generation" of leadership.
"My family and I have a big announcement to share with you on February 15th! And yes, it's definitely going to be a Great Day in South Carolina!" she tweeted, inviting supporters to turn out at an event in Charleston, the Palmetto State's largest town.
At this point in the 2020 cycle, 10 Democrats had launched campaigns or exploratory committees, but Trump is the only Republican to do so officially this time around.
Haley, 51, who was South Carolina's governor before serving for two years as Trump's United Nations ambassador, had said she wouldn't run against her former boss.
"Nikki has to follow her heart, not her honor. She should definitely run!" Trump said in an acerbic post on his social network that appeared calculated to raise questions over her loyalty.
Haley is unlikely to be the last Republican to throw their hat in the ring. Some Washington-watchers speculated that her announcement might prompt a stampede from rivals such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Trump's vice president Mike Pence.
"It's exciting to see the leadership that's coming out of South Carolina," Nancy Mace, a rare anti-Trump House Republican, said at a political event in Washington on Wednesday, adding that she was expecting an invitation to Haley's announcement by the end of the day.
She didn't confirm whether she would be attending, however, telling the crowd at the event organized by congressional media outlet Axios that she was "looking at" possibly endorsing Haley.
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Nimrata "Nikki" Randhawa was raised in Bamberg, South Carolina as a Sikh, but now identifies as Christian. She is married to a South Carolina National Guard officer and has two children.
Haley rose quickly in the southern state's politics, building a reputation as a plain-spoken conservative in its House of Representatives from 2005 until 2011, when she was elected governor.
She was the face of diversity in a cabinet criticized for being too white, and left the administration in 2018 with a strong global profile -- and a reputation for standing up to her mercurial boss.
But Haley's messaging on Trump has always been inconsistent.
She endorsed senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz during the 2016 Republican presidential primary, calling the brash property baron "everything a governor doesn't want in a president."
Since leaving government, her occasional praise of the Trump presidency has been offset by her criticism of his personal conduct, including his involvement in the 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
Haley averages three percent in 2024 primary opinion polls, according to Morning Consult, trailing Trump at 48 percent, DeSantis at 31 percent, and Pence, who is also in single digits.
"I think President Trump needs to come before the American people, like others that are going to enter in the primary, and build a case," North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis said at the Axios event.
"People are asking me -- am I picking somebody at this point. I say, my goodness, it's February of 2023."