Nikki Haley (R)

South Carolina Governor (since January 2011)

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Why She Matters

Overcoming a sex scandal, racial slurs and estrangement from the local GOP establishment, Haley won the Republican nomination for South Carolina governor in June 2010. She became the state's first female and first minority governor after beating state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D) in the November general election.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley has been hailed as the new face of the Republican party and the "post-racial" South, though she has endured skepticism about her religion and Southerness. She has enjoyed the support of friends in high places, most notably governor-turned-tea-party-queen Sarah Palin who endorsed Haley and defended her when scandal broke.

Haley’s name has been mentioned as a possible candidate for vice president in the 2012 election but she has stated that she has no interest in the job. And The Fix’s Aaron Blake points out that the ship may have already sailed on a V.P. offer due to some succession issues in South Carolina.

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At a Glance

  • Career History: South Carolina Representative (2004-2011); CFO, Exotica International (1996-2004); accounting supervisor, FCR Inc. (1994-1996)
  • Birthday: January 20, 1972
  • Hometown: Bamberg, S.C.
  • Alma Mater: Clemson University, B.S., 1994
  • Spouse: Michael
  • Religion: Methodist
  • Campaign Office: Lexington, SC, (803) 834-7065
  • Web site

Path to Power

Born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, Haley grew up in Bamberg, S.C. where her Sikh parents (a biology professor and entrepreneur) were the first Indian immigrants the small town had ever seen.

Growing up in such an environment was sometimes difficult. She has described her family's effort to blend in as "survival mode." "You learn to try and show people how you're more alike than you are different," she said.

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The Issues

Like the disgraced outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford, Haley espouses more hardline conservative ideas than most members of the state GOP.

She supports smaller government, lower taxes and restrained public spending. An accountant by profession, she has promised to eliminate excess spending from the state budget and has plans for tax reform.

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The Network

Haley has long been the protege of outgoing Gov. Sanford, who encouraged her to run for governor in early 2009. That support helped Haley get the fundraising ball rolling - until his sex-scandal broke, and the funding dried up. More recently, Haley also gained the support of the governor's ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, who celebrated Haley "break[ing] the glass ceiling in our state."

But more signficantly, Haley's anti-establishment credentials helped catch the attention of Sarah Palin, who swooped in, less than a month before the primary, to endorse Haley, sending her poll numbers through the roof. Palin also warned Haley about the attacks she might face, and defended her when the sex scandals broke.

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