The S.C. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Gov. Nikki Haley in her re-election bid Thursday – a reversal from four years ago, when the chamber endorsed her Democratic rival.
In the final stop in a series of events across South Carolina to tout the endorsement, chamber chairwoman Pamela Lackey praised Haley as a “product of small business herself.”
“In her first four years of leading our state, (Haley) has changed the conversation and the perception of South Carolina by making job creation and a better business climate her No. 1 priority,” Lackey said, speaking at Pure Power Technologies, a Blythewood automotive-components manufacturer.
Four years ago, the chamber endorsed state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the Camden Democrat who is challenging Lexington Republican Haley again in November. That endorsement followed the chamber’s endorsement of Republican U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, not Haley, in the GOP primary.
In 2010, the chamber praised Sheheen for supporting comprehensive tax reform, expanding the Port of Charleston, small businesses and low-cost energy sources as well as improving the state’s technical college system.
In response, Haley’s campaign then took a swipe at the chamber.
“The state chamber is a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare, so it's no surprise that they would prefer a liberal like Vincent Sheheen over a conservative like Nikki Haley,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey told The Associated Press in 2010.
Asked Thursday if she regretted that comment, Haley said: “I have a lot of people that work for us that know our passion, and know what we believe in, and are offended when they see a trial lawyer endorsed as opposed to an accountant. So, I think, he said what he felt at the time.”
Sheheen said Thursday the chamber’s endorsement of Haley was “not surprising.”
“The chamber’s announcement continues an unfortunate trend in their decision-making that favors big, out-of-state corporations at the expense of South Carolina’s small businesses,” he said. “While we must always continue to compete for new projects, if we ignore our own small businesses, we will never be truly economically successful.”
The endorsement of Haley is the second in two months from a business group. Last month, she was endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a national small-business group.
At least one S.C. chamber board member did not endorse Haley.
Scott Middleton, chief executive officer of Columbia-based Agape Senior, said Sheheen “has proven time and again that he is the type of leader South Carolina needs, one who will put the best interests of the state ahead of politics.”
In a press release, Middleton noted Sheheen’s support for expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and praised Sheheen for speaking out against the Legislature’s “foolish” effort to nullify the federal health care law, saying “Gov. Haley played politics and stayed quiet.”
Chamber chairwoman Lackey, president of AT&T South Carolina, credited Haley for leading a “manufacturing renaissance” in South Carolina, saying her record over the last four years earned her the chamber’s endorsement this year.
Asked about the chamber’s endorsement of Sheheen four years ago, Columbia banker Mike Brenan, a Haley ally on the chamber’s board and her representative on the state Board of Education, told the Anderson Independent Mail: “We got it wrong.”
In November, Haley and Sheheen also face independent petition candidate Tom Ervin, Libertarian Steve French and United Citizens candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves.