In her first campaign stop since Wednesday’s contentious Republican debate, Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and former governor of South Carolina, largely ignored the many attacks that her fellow candidates, aware of her rise in the polls, had lobbed at her. What she did discuss suggested she continued to feel that the criticism wasn’t, as she said on Wednesday night, “worth my time.”
Speaking to about 100 people in a convention center conference room in Sioux City, Iowa, on Friday, Ms. Haley stuck to the topics that have become the cornerstones of her campaign — her foreign policy experience and her willingness to tell “hard truths.” She railed against China, pledged to be a fiscally responsible president and even answered a question about fears that Venezuela could invade its South American neighbor, Guyana.
Despite her growing rivalry with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to become the chief alternative to former President Donald J. Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, Ms. Haley did not mention Mr. DeSantis by name, nor did she mention the debate — where she was in the line of fire for much of the evening — until the final minutes of the event.
Responding to a voter’s question about her standing in the race, Ms. Haley said she did not think she needed to win the Iowa caucus to be successful.
“The momentum is on our side,” she said. “The way I look at it is, we just need to have a good showing in Iowa. I don’t think that means we have to win, necessarily, but I think that we have to have a good showing.”
Ms. Haley also appeared to indicate that she would not accept an offer to be Mr. Trump’s running mate, if he were to win the nomination and ask her. “I’ve never played for second,” she said.
Ms. Haley’s campaign has gained prominence in recent weeks. Many national polls now put her in a heated race for second place with Mr. DeSantis, and she is running at a similar level in Iowa, at roughly 17.5 percent. (Mr. Trump is well ahead of them both, at more than 45 percent.)
Late last month, Americans for Prosperity Action, the conservative political network founded by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, endorsed Ms. Haley, which gave her campaign access to the network’s financial might and to a pool of staff members to knock on doors and make phone calls.
During the Republican debate in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Wednesday, Ms. Haley’s increasing prominence made her the target of frequent attacks from Mr. DeSantis and the entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Mr. Ramaswamy in particular assailed her, calling her a “fascist,” asserting that she was in the pocket of business interests and at one point holding up a notepad on which he had written, “Nikki = Corrupt.”
“I love all the attention, fellas,” Ms. Haley quipped at one point, even as she appeared, at least at moments, to fade into the debate’s background. Some analysts suggested afterward that Ms. Haley had not mounted a strong enough defense of herself.
Unlike Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who rehashed his debate zingers during his campaign stops in New Hampshire on Thursday, Ms. Haley appeared to have moved on. She said the debates had served to winnow the field, and she predicted that another candidate — evidently Mr. DeSantis, though she did not name him — would drop out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.
“We’ve got three major people that are going to go into Iowa, and I think after Iowa, one’s going to drop,” Ms. Haley said. “And then I think you’re going to have a play with me and Trump in New Hampshire, and then we’re going to go to my home state in South Carolina, and then we’re going to take it.”
Many in attendance in Sioux City appeared to agree with Ms. Haley’s decision to largely ignore the attacks from her opponents, saying they had admired her debate performance on Wednesday.
“She did so well at the debate,” said Adrienne Dunn, a 48-year-old Sioux City resident who is leaning toward voting for Ms. Haley but has not made a final decision. “She was prepared. She had good answers.”