Flanked by a pair of 2016 presidential contenders, Nikki Haley tried her darnedest to smother the notion that she’s going to nationalize her reelection campaign for governor in South Carolina.
“It’s funny. You guys asked that in 2010. It’s like every couple years y’all think this means something national. It doesn’t,” she flatly told reporters on Monday, minutes before kicking off her 2014 bid with a rally featuring Govs. Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker.
And then Perry interjected.
“It is about a national effort,” the Texas governor confirmed, swiftly contradicting Haley’s answer while seated just a few feet from her. “It’s about blue states versus red states. It is a national conversation I hope Americans are engaging with over the course of the next few years. Look at which one of these states’ policies actually work, and my instincts are that most of the time it’s going to be a red state.”
If there was any doubt about the strategic path Haley will take to hold on to her governorship in the face of middling poll ratings in a ruby red Southern state, Monday’s events laid them to rest.
Three big-name governors with designs on the White House hopped on a stage before a sparsely populated crowd in Greenville to laud Haley’s tenure and repeatedly tether her opponent, Vincent Sheheen, to President Obama and the national Democratic agenda.
“There’s a simple question: do you want to stand with the president and his allies like the one they’ve got running against Nikki who believe that you measure success in government by how many people are dependent on the government?” Walker asked.
Minutes prior, Jindal drew cheers from the audience when he praised Haley for fighting the GOP’s cause du jour. “She stood up against Obamacare and said no for the United States and for South Carolina,” he said.
The first female and minority governor in Palmetto State history finds herself in a unique position. Haley’s political capital nationally is demonstrably stronger than it is locally. As a result, her biggest strength, even some Republicans here concede, is her ability to nationalize the contest at every turn.
“There’s national Nikki Haley and there’s local Nikki Haley, and she’s perceived differently through those different lenses,” said an elected Republican official who requested anonymity in exchange for candor. “But the upper hand she has is that South Carolina will grow redder over the next year.”
The local Haley registers an approval rating in the low 40s and must defend an unemployment rate that hovers above the national average. She also has been pelted with competency questions following a seismic security breach that compromised millions of her residents’ personal data and a slow response to a tuberculosis outbreak in a rural elementary school.
“If I was a governor with a 43 percent approval rating, I’d try to get more than three governors, I’d try to get 10 more governors to come prop me up,” slugged South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison. “She is a broken governor overseeing a broken government.”
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