Why the South Carolina governor’s race is the hottest ticket in town

August 26, 2013

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will launch her reelection campaign Monday afternoon with the help of some of the biggest names in the party, including Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Rick Perry of Texas.


South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R). (photo by Mary Ann Chastain/AP)

A quick glance at what's at stake in Haley's race explains why some of the the heaviest hitters in the party are joining her kickoff event, and why Democrats, too, have such a keen interest in the contest. There are three main reasons why the South Carolina campaign is the hottest ticket across the gubernatorial landscape right now:

1. What Haley means to the Republican Party: Haley was the first woman to be elected governor of South Carolina in 2010 and she is one of just two Indian-American governors nationwide. (Jindal is the other.) At a time when many party strategists want the GOP to project a more diverse image, losing Haley from the roster of the nation's governors would clearly be a blow. So expect Haley to be well-funded and receive all of the support she needs from the Republican Governors Association, which is chaired by Jindal, with Walker serving as his vice chairman.

2. Haley is not a shoo-in for a second term. Polls show Haley is far from invincible. Meanwhile, Democrats are bullish on state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D), who lost a competitive 2010 race to Haley. The prospect of a pickup in safely Republican South Carolina has Democrats licking their chops and Republicans extra determined not to let this seat slip away. Haley is still in the driver's seat here, her aides are confident she will end up winning comfortably, and just about everything would have to go right for Democrats to defeat her. But the fact that the race looks potentiality more competitive than the political tilt of South Carolina would suggest has both sides gearing up early.

3. 2016. There's an added incentive for potential presidential candidates to go to the Palmetto State to stump for Haley and Sheheen. South Carolina holds one of the earliest presidential nominating contests in the country (only Iowa and New Hampshire went earlier in 2012), and making inroads with Republicans and Democrats in the state in the midst of a high-stakes campaign is a great way to build a base of support. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has already touted Sheheen in the state. Walker and Jindal are viewed as potential 2016 candidates, too. For her part, Haley was mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2012, but these days, she has her hands full with her reelection bid, and isn't really talked about much as a potential 2016 presidential contender.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Chris Cillizza | August 26, 2013