CONWAY, S.C. — Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has a simple message as she tours the state with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
But do South Carolinians like Haley? After cruising into office last year as a new conservative star, Haley has been weathering bad press and bad poll numbers.
A recent Winthrop Poll put the governor’s approval rating at a paltry 34.6 percent. In the past few months she’s been accused of improperly influencing a port decision and dictating the conclusions of a health-care implementation committee before it even started meeting. After a Charleston Post and Courier story questioned the benefit of a trip Haley and staff took to Europe, the governor dismissively called the reporter a “little girl” on local radio. (She later apologized.)
Many tea party activists are angry at Haley for endorsing Romney, and are no more inclined to support a candidate they loathe. Others criticize the governor for not creating more jobs despite her focus on the issue.
“It won’t help Romney too much because right now Haley is only slightly more popular than head lice,” snarked Wesley Donehue, who worked for the campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in South Carolina.
Haley dismisses the Winthrop Poll as inaccurate, calling it on Thursday a “local poll” that did not reflect statewide sentiment. Her pollster, Jon Lerner, pointed out in a memo that the survey included more Democrats than Republicans. South Carolina is a state that has heavily favored Republicans in recent statewide elections.
“Nikki Haley is one of the most popular Republicans in South Carolina, and her support has already been and will continue to be very beneficial to Mitt Romney,” Lerner told The Fix. “I think the Romney campaign recognizes that and is thrilled to have her by his side every stop he makes in the state.”
Winthrop University polling director Scott Huffmon defended the poll, noting that the same methodology was used to predict Haley’s 2010 win.
While Haley’s numbers probably aren’t as bad as the Winthrop Poll claims, “the honeymoon’s over,” said local Republican strategist Chip Felkel. “The initial endorsement probably helped him outside South Carolina more than it helped him in South Carolina.”
Romney came in fourth in South Carolina in 2008. He’s already positioned to do better than that this time around. But every little bit will matter, and even with her shrunken standing, Haley’s endorsement probably won’t hurt him. Whether it will hurt her in 2014 is an open question.