The national buzz about Nikki Haley is back.
The timing of Haley’s successful call to remove the Confederate flag from the S.C. State House – just as the 2016 presidential primary fight ramps up – has ratcheted up talk about the South Carolina governor’s vice presidential prospects.
The attention Haley is receiving is hotter than in 2010, when she first won election as governor, pundits said. Then, the daughter of Indian immigrants was dubbed the new face of the Republican Party.
Today, Haley is speaking to national party groups and meetings of top conservatives. She is appearing on national television news programs. And, next week, Haley will head to Washington, D.C., to speak at the National Press Club on “The New South.”
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“Haley has gained a great deal from the flag removal,” University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said. “It really put her on the radar screen.”
Haley, who at 43 is the nation’s youngest governor, insists she is not paying attention to the vice presidential chatter.
“If those things happen, we’ll take it as it comes,” she told The State newspaper last week. “But it’s just not something that I have heard about, talked about or had anything to do with so far. So, for me, it’s not in my world.”
In any case,the positive national reviews of Haley’s handling of the Charleston church shooting and her subsequent call to remove the Confederate flag might not carry her to the 2016 ticket.
“Is she still in the limelight one year from now?” asked Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan. “I’m not so sure.”
Pundits also note Haley is not the only S.C. Republican being talked about as a potential vice president.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of North Charleston is receiving attention, especially since he is the only African-American Republican in the Senate. Like Haley, he is seen as part of a growing diversity in the GOP.
Scott is winning attention by holding one-on-one town hall meetings for all the major GOP presidential candidates through the end of the year.
I think you should be flattered anytime people are talking about you like that.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston
Even if Haley and Scott don’t end up as finalists on the GOP ticket, they will have some influence in the South’s first presidential primary, set for Feb. 20 in South Carolina.
Both have said they plan to endorse a GOP presidential candidate – a choice that could cement votes for a White House hopeful trying to gain traction.
For now, much of the vice presidential attention is focused on Haley.
The national press corps is trumpeting her return to the spotlight.
“Nikki Haley coming to D.C. amid VP buzz” and “Potential VP Candidates Show New Face of Republican Party” were headlines on stories from Politico and Bloomberg Politics, respectively, this month.
Peter Hamby, head of news at Snapchat and a former CNN political reporter, tweeted that the governor’s Press Club speech was a “turning point for Nikki Haley, who has long avoided publicity like this.”
Haley has not been in the national spotlight like this since she first was elected governor in 2010, pundits note.
Then, the state’s first female and minority governor was touted as a transformative figure for the Republican Party.
Newsweek called Haley “The New Face of the New South” on its cover during the 2010 campaign. After her election, she joined the executive committee for the Republican Governors Association.
But Haley struggled to turn all of her national attention into legislative wins in the GOP-dominated Legislature.
She fought the General Assembly over government restructuring and ethics reform, even trying unsuccessfully to order lawmakers back into session. The report cards that Haley issued for lawmakers after her first year in office just deepened the rift.
The governor then toned down her criticisms and won support for her education reform plan. Eventually, she also won passage of government restructuring, which gave her office some additional powers.
Outside South Carolina, Haley was still in demand. But the national media had shifted its focus to potential 2016 GOP presidential prospects.
She continued to travel to speak at the invitation of Republican groups and attend fundraisers for her 2014 re-election bid.
Gov. Nikki Haley raised nearly half of the state record-high $8 million that her re-election campaign brought in from outside South Carolina.
However, this year’s legislative session was a rehash of Haley’s first year in office, featuring the governor bickering with lawmakers over state borrowing and roads funding
But that all changed on June 17.
‘A story they want to hear’
The pastor of Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, also a state senator, and eight of his parishioners were gunned down during a Bible study at the historic African-American church.
The next day, police arrested a 21-year-old Eastover man who reportedly told friends he wanted to start a race war.
Two days after the shootings, Haley decided the Confederate flag needed to come down from the State House grounds. She announced her stance on June 22, flanked by South Carolina’s two U.S. senators, two congressmen and several state lawmakers.
The General Assembly agreed to pull down the flag less than three weeks later, a quick and stunning victory for Haley who had attended the funerals of all nine victims.
Haley was becoming a star again.
Haley gave some national television interviews and spoke to The New York Times and the Washington Post about her decision to remove the flag and the absence of violence after the shootings.
She appeared on “Meet the Press,” spoke to leading party officials at a Republican National Committee gathering in Ohio before the presidential debate earlier this month and appeared at the annual Red State gathering that attracts top conservatives. Her recent appearances have been well-received, according to published reports.
Now, Haley will go to the National Press Club to discuss how the aftermath of the Charleston shooting shows that the South has changed.
Haley said she is not terribly interested in the conjecture that she is a vice presidential prospect. Typically, she has deflected questions by saying she was concentrating on helping the state heal after the Emanuel killings.
Last week, she told The State newspaper that she is receiving interest nationally because people across the country want to hear the lessons from South Carolina’s response to the shootings and removing the Confederate flag.
“I have always had a deep love for talking about the goodness of South Carolinians,” she said. “It’s a story they want to hear. And it’s a story I’m happy to tell. … I see opportunities for me to continue to brag on South Carolina.”
As for the vice presidential talk, Haley said, “People are going to speculate what they want, and I’ll leave that up to you guys (in the media) on how you deal with that.”
Haley said last month that she would listen if the GOP’s presidential nominee wanted to speak with her about being vice president.
Last week, she stressed that she had not thought about being vetted. Haley said she was playing catch-up after the shooting and flag controversy.
The governor made several announcements last week, including hiring a new chief of staff, calling for a state investigation into Planned Parenthood and demanding the Pentagon not move Guantanamo Bay detainees in South Carolina.
“Life stopped for us for six weeks, and so now we’re going back, trying to get things back for South Carolina,” she said.
A chance for the ticket?
Haley could advance in the vice presidential sweepstakes, but there are issues that likely would keep her off the GOP ticket, pundits said.
The main knock on Haley is that she comes from a state where a Republican will win in November 2016 without having the state’s governor on the ticket. South Carolina, which last voted for a Democrat for president in 1976, typically ranks among the nation’s most Republican-leaning states.
“You can’t ignore the electoral race,” said Sabato, the Virginia political scientist.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez might be a better pick for Republicans, Sabato said. She is a Hispanic who lives in a swing state, he said.
Some pundits think questions also would be raised about accusations from Haley’s first campaign for governor – that she used her office as a legislator for personal gain and was involved in extramarital affairs.
The governor was cleared by the House Ethics Committee on her business dealings. And Haley has denied having affairs with two men, who never have provided proof of their claims.
Now, Haley is getting attention as a potential vice president, in part, because former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the 2016 Democratic front-runner. The thought is that Republicans might want a woman on their ticket.
But Buchanan, the Citadel political scientist, said voters are used to having a woman on the presidential ticket. After vice presidential nominees Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, a Democrat, and Sarah Palin in 2012, a Republican, “the novelty is not there,” he said.
Still, having Haley and Scott mentioned as possible vice presidential choices can help the party. The two minority Republicans help build the message that the GOP is more diverse, said Buchanan and former S.C. Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson.
“We have two national figures that represent the new face of the Republican Party,” said Dawson, who is working with the presidential campaign of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “Among all this (Donald) Trump business and other rhetoric in the primary that can be hurtful to the party, we have two people who can make peace with a lot of these constituencies.”
Still, while the flag issue has brought Haley some additional name recognition, it’s not enough to easily earn her a spot on the ticket, pundits say.
“Nikki Haley was not even a thought for a lot of people (before the flag),” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in North Carolina.
They didn’t know what state that she is governor of.
Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer
If Republicans retake the White House, a more likely landing spot for Haley is a cabinet post, where she would add diversity, pundits said.
“Most people hear about cabinet members on two days – when they’re picked and when they leave,” Sabato said. “They are usually around for photos ops.”
For Scott, an opportunity to be on the GOP ticket might be coming a little too soon in his Capitol Hill career.
The 49-year-old former insurance broker spent two years in the U.S. House before being appointed to the Senate by Haley in 2013 to succeed Jim DeMint, who resigned to run the Heritage Foundation.
Scott said he plans to concentrate on running for his first full six-year term in 2016.
“In the end, I love South Carolina,” he said. “I love coming home.”