She is governor of a little state with only nine electoral votes that almost certainly will support Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in November’s general election.
Still, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley will get an oversized dose of love at the Republican National Convention today, where she will give the highest-profile speech of her life, an address that could set up her path into national politics.
The Lexington Republican is scheduled to speak to the convention at 9:45 p.m., immediately before Ann Romney, wife of Mitt Romney, addresses the Tampa crowd and the national TV cameras. Observers say the rescheduling of Haley’s speech to Tuesday from Monday — forced by Tropical Storm Isaac — has been an unexpected boon for the first-term Republican governor, increasing the likelihood it will get national TV coverage.
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“National conventions are about introducing your future, up-and-coming stars,” said Tony Denny, a S.C. delegate and former director of the S.C. GOP. He cited the 2004 Democratic convention speech by then-little-known Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama that put him on the national radar. “It’s typically a coming-our party.”
Mike Campbell, son of late S.C. Gov. Carroll Campbell, said his father’s speaking gigs at three national GOP conventions — in 1984,1988 and 1992 — helped build the two-term governor’s national reputation, leading to his being vetted three times for vice president.
“She (Haley) could parlay this into a lot of national positions, and it will be a very special moment for her personally,” Campbell said.
Haley said Monday that she had written, revised — and revised again — her speech, which she said will center on her battles with the federal government, and her beliefs that new leadership is needed in the White House and Romney is that right leader. She practiced delivering the speech at the convention’s podium Sunday.
Haley, a symbol of a more diverse and inclusive GOP, is downplaying the speech’s importance to her own future. She says she is happy to get the opportunity to brag about her home state.
She also has been hesitant to discuss plans for her political future, beyond saying she would not accept a spot in Romney’s cabinet should he defeat President Obama in November.
“Don’t know how many different ways or times we can say this,” said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey Monday. “The governor’s only ambition is to continue to be the chief executive of South Carolina and continue to move our state forward.”
Looking ahead to 2014
Haley has yet to announce formally that she will seek re-election in 2014, a move not expected until after the November election. However, the nearly $1 million in her campaign war chest for 2014 means she is all but sure to seek a second and, by law final, term.
While wildly popular in some GOP circles nationally, Haley could face a Republican primary challenger back home in South Carolina if she seeks re-election, some S.C. Republican insiders say.
As evidence that there’s room for another GOP candidate, critics point to:
• A roundly criticized decision by Haley’s environmental board to give Georgia’s port of Savannah a competitive advantage over the Charleston port.
• A legislative ethics investigation that cleared Haley but also highlighted her questionable, albeit legal, activities.
• Her sour relationship with the majority-Republican General Assembly, including House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.
Haley also has a cool relationship with the S.C. Republican Party, whose network of activists and volunteers can make or break a candidate. S.C. GOP leaders supported other Republican candidates for governor in 2010. And, since taking office, Haley has raised money for other state GOP parties, but not South Carolina’s.
“(Party activists) are ready to be massaged if the right candidate with the right message comes along,” said a S.C. Republican here, asking not to be named because he did not want to break ranks publicly with a fellow Republican.
Haley allies scoff at that talk. They say she remains a very popular, so popular she is unlikely to attract a Republican primary opponent.
They point to a poll, taken earlier this month, by a nationally respected pollster for Haley showing the governor has a 74 percent favorability rating among S.C. Republicans and a 54 percent favorability rating among all voters. Among self-identified Tea Party members, Haley’s favorability shoots up to 82 percent.
January polling by the Associated Press showed a majority of Republican primary voters approved of Haley’s job performance — and she proved her kingmaker status earlier this summer, endorsing two S.C. candidates and propelling them to unlikely primary wins.
Applause for her message
The 2014 primary race for governor will seem far away tonight as the convention hall lights dim and Haley, capable of being a dynamic speaker, basks in the national glow.
Her national popularity was on full display at a Monday breakfast for convention delegates. A couple of Florida delegates said they had come to the breakfast mainly to hear Haley, even though their own governor, Rick Scott, also spoke. The Floridians roundly applauded Haley’s message that the federal debt was crippling, President Obama was a failure, and Romney has a track record of success after turning around companies and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The speech is just one of several tasks Haley should be taking on this week if she wants to build her national profile, political consultants say.
If she has national ambitions, they recommend Haley scout out deep-pocketed donors and important GOP contacts in the convention center’s skyboxes and at Republican Governors Association events. They speculate she will.
Haley’s schedule for today includes a roundtable with reporters, her second Florida fundraiser this week, her prime-time speech and a reception with the S.C. delegation. The reception, being held in honor, is sponsored by Pike Energy Solutions, a N.C.-based company that does engineering, planning, design, maintenance and repair work for more than 200 U.S. utilities.
Wednesday and Thursday, Haley’s schedule includes a breakfast with the S.C. delegation followed by media availability and a Republican Governors Association luncheon.
Reach Smith at (803) 414-1340.