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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley endorses Romney

at 08:19 AM ET, 12/16/2011

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) endorsed Mitt Romney for president on Friday, landing the former Massachusetts governor one of the most coveted endorsements in the presidential race.

Haley made the announcement on Fox and Friends this morning, and in a release from the Romney campaign, she said Romney has the right business background for the job.

“Neither South Carolina nor the nation can afford four more years of President Obama, and Mitt Romney is the right person to take him on and get America back on track,” Haley said.

Haley also backed Romney in the 2008 presidential campaign, when she was in the state legislature, and Romney returned the favor by backing her governor bid in 2010 (and sending $60,000 to her campaign through his various state-level political action committees). She had long promised to endorse in the 2012 race, but it wasn’t clear that she would line up behind Romney again.

In Haley, Romney gets the support of one of the rising young (39 years old) stars in GOP politics. Haley is the first female governor of the Palmetto State and the second Indian-American governor in United States history. With camera-friendly looks and an attractive personal style, she could quickly become a popular surrogate for the Romney campaign.

As the Post’s Ned Martel noted in a profile of the governor this week, she is known as a hard-charger whose appeal is pretty broad and hard to define with one label — tea party, establishment, etc. She has yet to cut much of a national profile, but she has only been in statewide office for less than a year.

At the same time, that hasn’t stopped the chatter about her potentially becoming someone’s vice presidential nominee.

Haley in her 2010 campaign defeated three better-known white male politicians to win her party’s nomination, overcoming allegations of an affair with a Republican consultant and winning the race going away. She then faced a tough general election, which was closer than many expected but from which she emerged victorious.

She is seen as a departure from the so-called “old boys network” that has dominated South Carolina GOP politics over the years. But given her lack of a connection to that network, it remains to be seen whether she can move votes in the state come primary time. Plus, she isn’t terribly popular right now, according to a recent Winthrop University poll that pegged her approval rating 35 percent and her disapproval at 43 percent.

Just 53 percent of Republicans said they approved of her job performance — a reflection of some battling between her and the GOP-controlled legislature. And more Republicans said she has failed to meet expectations (24 percent) than say she has exceeded them (11 percent).

The endorsement also comes at a good time for Romney, as recent polling has shown him trailing Newt Gingrich in South Carolina by around 20 points. And Romney’s lack of activity in the state recently earned the ire of state GOP Chairman Chad Connelly.

Haley becomes the second Republican governor in an early state to endorse a candidate, joining Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry shortly after Perry entered the race.

Still up for grabs are Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Branstad, it should be noted, expressed some doubts about Gingrich’s candidacy on Thursday. New Hampshire has a Democratic governor.

To keep track of all the endorsements, make sure to check out our endorsement tracker and play the endorsement tracker game.

 
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