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Can rising GOP star Nikki Haley keep governor’s job in South Carolina?

Beset by controversies and low poll numbers, Haley is being targeted by Democrats.

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

south-carolina mugCOLUMBIA, S.C. (CFP) – She’s young, telegenic, has a compelling personal story, enjoys an enviable national political profile and governs a state where her party is practically invincible. But can South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley win re-election in 2014?

Standing before a gigantic American flag and flanked by three heavyweight Republican governors, Haley kicked off her campaign in Greenville on August 26, touting her record of job creation and taking the requisite swipe at Obamacare.


South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

“When it came to Obamacare, we didn’t just say no. We said never,” Haley said at her kickoff, drawing an ovation from the faithful who came out to see her stand alongside Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

But, this being a governor who has faced controversy after controversy for the past four years, the rally itself quickly became an issue.

The crowd – described as “sparse” in media reports – was estimated at 300 by the Haley campaign. But Democratic activists who showed up to heckle insisted, with no small amount of glee, that only about 75 people showed up.

Democrats – who have lost six of the last seven gubernatorial elections in South Carolina –clearly smell blood in the water.

A statewide poll by Winthrop University in April showed Haley’s approval rating was at 43.5 percent – a weak number for an incumbent in a heavily Republican state. Indeed, her approval number in that poll was exactly the same as President Barack Obama’s, although her disapproval number was 10 points lower than his.


State Senator Vincent Shaheen

Haley’s expected Democratic foe is State Senator Vincent Sheheen of Camden, who lost to her by just 5 percentage points in 2010 and is spoiling for a rematch. In an op-ed piece published in the Greenville News on August 30, the senator slammed what he termed “a culture of secrecy and pattern of incompetence” in her administration.

“We can do so much better,” he said. “We can put South Carolina back on the path to honesty, integrity and prosperity and move forward together. But we need new leadership.”

Haley, who came out of nowhere to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010 with a well-timed endorsement from Sarah Palin, has seemed almost snake bit from the moment she took office:

  • While Haley was cleared of ethics charges brought against her, her critics have refused to let go of the allegations, accusing her of trying to thwart the investigations. The continuing controversy has sapped her popularity, despite the fact that she has made ethics reform one of her key legislative issues.
  • She has sparred with legislators, including some from her own party. The state Supreme Court had to step in to settle one of those disputes.
  • Personal information for millions of South Carolinians was stolen from the state revenue department. Haley was criticized for waiting two weeks to notify the public of the breach and not releasing a report on how it happened.
  • Her administration was criticized for a slow response to a tuberculosis outbreak at an elementary school in Greenwood.
  • In August, her campaign dismissed a volunteer with ties to what was alleged to be a white supremacist group.
  • Haley’s office recently disclosed that she had been in a minor car accident during a trip to give a speech in North Carolina. She was criticized for raising campaign money during that trip while state taxpayers were paying for her security detail.
  • Despite Haley’s claims to be a job creator, unemployment in the Palmetto State is still above the national average.

Still, Haley has some significant advantages:

  • Unemployment is lower than it was when she took office, and her approval ratings have risen in recent months.
  • The Winthrop poll showed that she had solid support among Republicans, making a primary challenge unlikely.
  • She already has a $2 million fundraising advantage over Shaheen, with the ability to raise even more money from Tea Party conservatives across the country.
  • And perhaps most significantly, South Carolina is arguably the most Republican state in the South, making winning a statewide office a mighty tall order for any Democrat.

If Haley wins in 2014, she would almost certainly be on the short list for the Republican vice presidential nomination in 2016, and a bid for the White House wouldn’t be out of the question. Her personal story as the daughter of Sikh immigrants from India would be attractive to the GOP, which has been trying to broaden its base among people of color.

Haley herself is rejecting any talk of national aspirations.

“It’s like every couple of years y’all think this means something national. It doesn’t,” she told reporters at her kickoff.

Perry, Walker and Jindal are all considered 2016 White House possibilities. Their very public support for Haley might help that effort in the Palmetto State, which holds the South’s first presidential primary.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s critics line up to take him on in GOP primary

A crowded primary field, with three candidates in the race so far, could help the veteran Republican senator survive by dividing the anti-Graham vote

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

south-carolina mugCOLUMBIA, S.C. (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s maverick ways have already drawn him not one, not two, but three challengers in the 2014 Republican primary — a crowded field that could help the senator survive by dividing the anti-Graham vote.

Senate challenger Lee Bright

Senate challenger Lee Bright

The latest challenger, State Senator Lee Bright of Roebuck, valuted into the GOP primary on August 13 by calling Graham “a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood” — a rather opaque reference to Graham’s recent high-profile trip to Egypt with his close friend, Senator John McCain of Arizona.

McCain and Graham went to Egypt at the behest of President Barack Obama to meet with Egyptian officials after the miliatary’s recent overthrow of the elected government of President Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bright, a Tea Party-linked libertarian candidate, has had a colorful legislative career in Columbia, introduciing bills to make it a crime to enforce Obamacare in the Palmetto State and to exempt South Carolina from federal gun regulations. He’s also advocated that his state consider adopting its own currency.
Indeed, Bright’s legislative career has been so colorful that he drew a serious primary challenge in 2012, which he managed to survive.

Also in the race is Nancy Mace, a Charleston businesswoman who has been having to answer questions about her role as part ownner of FITSNews, a irreverant Web site mixing South Carolina news with pop culture.

The site is run by Will Folks, who in 2010 claimed to have had an affair with Republican Governor Nikki Haley, which Haley vehemently denied.

Mace, who was the first female graduate of The Citadel, also claims Tea Party support, including a recent endorsement by the Tea Party Leadership Fund, a national group.

The third candidate in the race — so far — is Richard Cash, from Anderson County, an evangelical Christian missionary who owns a used car business and a fleet of ice cream trucks. On his Web site, he says “the origins and foundation of American greatness lies in Christianity, Capitalism, and the Constitution.”

Cash ran for the 3rd District U.S. House seat in 2010, winning the first round of the primary before losing the runoff to the eventual winner, Rep. Jeff Duncan.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

Graham, 58, who is seeking this third term in the Senate, has run afoul of some Tea Party groups for his efforts to reach bi-partisan compromises with Democrats, most recently for his support of an immigration reform bill that was opposed by most Republican senators.

His close political and personal friendship with McCain has also drawn fire, particularly over their blistering criticism of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky for his filibuster over Obama’s drone strike policy. Tea Party groups tried, and failed, to oust McCain during his 2010 re-election bid.

However, over the past year, Graham has been highly critical of the Obama administration for its handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and for the IRS’s targeting of tax exempt groups.

Graham has said that he expects a vigorous primary challenge and has already raised more than $6 million for his 2014 campaign. A colonel in the Air Force Reserve, his staunchly pro-military stands could also serve him well among an important constituency in his native state.

A crowded GOP primary field would seem to help Graham by dividing the opposition arrayed against him. However, South Carolina has a runoff system for its primaries, which means that if the anti-Graham field can keep him under 50 percent, he would have to face the second place finisher in a runoff.

On the Democratic side, the only announced candidate so far is Jay Stamper, 41, of Columbia, the managing director of a non-profit business development group.

Given South Carolina’s staunch Republican tendencies, the winner of the GOP primary will be considered a prohibitive favorite in November.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to launch re-election bid

First term Republican to announce 2014 re-election bid on August 26 in Greenville

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

south-carolina mugGREENVILLE, S.C. (CFP) — South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will announce her 2014 re-election bid on August 26 at a high-profile public event that will feature three of her fellow Republican governors, her campaign has confirmed.

The event in Greenville will include Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, along with U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who Haley appointed to the Senate. Her campaign confirmed the event with the Greenville Times.


South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

Haley, 41, is the first woman to serve as South Carolina’s chief executive and is currently the youngest governor of any state. Her bid for a second term has been widely expected.

Haley won a hotly contested Republican primary in 2010 with the backing of Tea Party groups and an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Despite the strong Republican tendencies in the Palmetto State, her general election win was surprisingly close, with Haley carrying just 51 percent of the vote.

Her Democratic opponent in 2010, State Senator Vincent Sheheen of Camden, plans a re-match.

Haley is the daughter of Sikh immigrants from India. She and Jindal are the nation’s first Indian-American governors.

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