GREENVILLE — In front of a tennis court-sized U.S. flag with Tom Petty’s “American Girl” blaring on speakers, Gov. Nikki Haley strode onto the stage Monday outside the Bi-Lo Center to announce her 2014 re-election bid.
Accompanied by three other Republican governors and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of North Charleston, Haley touted her record of job creation, union fighting, moving welfare recipients to jobs and passing lawsuit reform before hundreds of supporters and a few dozen protesters.
“If you think what we did in the first 2 1/2 years was great, wait until you see what we do next,” the 41-year-old Lexington Republican said.
Haley, the nation’s youngest governor, is expected to face Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden in a repeat of their 2010 race, which Haley won by 4.5 percentage points.
Haley put her record of creating 37,500 jobs and lowering the state’s unemployment rate at the top of pitch for re-election. But she drew the biggest applause when she talked about fighting Washington, D.C.’s questioning of Boeing’s decision to build a jet-making plant in North Charleston and the federal government’s efforts to expand health care coverage.
“When it came to Obamacare, we didn’t just say ‘no.’ We said ‘never,’ ” Haley said. “We are not expanding Medicaid just because President Obama thinks we should.”
Last week, a Haley political strategist sent out a memo saying he expects the Lexington Republican to win re-election because she has a $2 million lead in fundraising and more name recognition than four years ago. The memo said Sheheen also could be hurt by South Carolinians’ dislike of President Barack Obama’s policies.
S.C. Democrats said Haley will face questions about her handling of the massive data breach at the S.C. Department of Revenue and the tuberculosis outbreak in Greenwood County.
“Nikki Haley has overseen a broken government in South Carolina,” Jaime Harrison, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, said at the Bi-Lo Center. “All of her attention has not been focused on South Carolina. It has been focused on fundraising. She loves the glitz and the glamour of being governor.
“But she doesn’t get into the details of how you govern.”
At Monday’s campaign kickoff, Haley used a reference to her husband, Michael, on a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan with the S.C. National Guard, to acknowledge about 35 protesters congregated atop a parking lot stairwell, overlooking the Bi-Lo Center plaza.
“I want to say ‘hello’ to our protesters up there and let you know that I appreciate you being up there because my husband and his military brothers and sisters are fighting in Afghanistan to let you be able to do that,” she said.
Haley, raised in Bamberg by parents who emigrated from India, said she made the decision to seek re-election in May while her husband was home for a two-week furlough.
“I said when I ran the first time that I don’t want to run again if we’re not moving the ball,” Haley said. “I need to know we’re doing more than just butting heads. I need to know we’re making a difference – and we did that.”
Scott, whom Haley appointed to the Senate last year after Jim DeMint retired, emceed the re-election kickoff.
Three governors – Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Perry of Texas and Scott Walker of Wisconsin – came to South Carolina to speak on Haley’s behalf. Later, they attended a Haley fundraiser at the home of Greenville developer Bob Hughes, who is engineering the revamping of the former state mental hospital site on Columbia’s Bull Street.
“She has campaigned as a conservative and governed as a conservative,” said Jindal, chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Perry was returning to South Carolina for the first time since dropping out of the 2012 GOP presidential race. Haley endorsed eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney in that race.
The governors teased Haley about how their states all compete for business but share a mutual respect.
“It’s a way to make sure the people of South Carolina understand. You’ve got a great governor,” Perry said at a news conference before the announcement. “You have got a governor who has put your state in a very competitive position, and she makes the rest of us a little bit nervous, and that’s a good thing.”