When she first ran for South Carolina governor less than a decade ago, Nikki Haley was a little-known lawmaker with big ambitions but modest prospects.
How things have changed.
“It’s not what she’s going to do but how many options she has,” said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political scientist.
Haley, America’s outgoing ambassador to the United Nations, was in Charlotte Tuesday night to accept the Charlotte Chamber’s 2018 Citizen of the Carolinas award.
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“There will always be a part of me that’s in the Carolinas, regardless of where I am,” Haley told a crowd of several hundred at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Haley, 46, announced in October that she would resign at the end of the year. In a six-minute speech, she touched on her record as a governor who brought the state jobs and, after the 2015 killing of nine worshipers at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel church, a measure of healing. To the United Nations, she said, she brought “Carolina values.”
“For us, standing for what is right even when we are standing alone is a point of pride. It’s what we do,” she said. “Like Palmetto trees, we can bend . . . but we stay strongly rooted.”
Haley offered no hint of what she would do next, though speculation ranges from the pursuit of lucrative business positions to national political office.
She’s been mentioned as a possible 2020 running mate for President Donald Trump should Vice President Mike Pence not be on the ticket. But she’s also leaving the U.N. post with a personal debt of up to $1 million, according to an economic disclosure.
The ambassador to the world would seem to have a world of options.
“Her future is without limits,” said Republican consultant Frank Luntz. “She’s proved herself not only capable of global service but (is) very impressive. . . . I expect her to be on the national stage for the next decade.”
Haley has fared well in national polls. An April Quinnipiac University survey found that 63 percent of voters — including 55 percent of Democrats — approved of her job performance. A CNN headline about the poll suggested Haley might be “the most popular politician in America.”
Though she will have spent only two years at the U.N., Luntz ranks her with the most effective U.S. ambassadors.
“They all had one thing in common — that they wouldn’t back down against countries that want to do us harm,” he said.
Huffmon said he expects Haley is considering a run for national office, if not in 2020 then in 2024.
“She’s young, she’s ambitious,” he said. “I guarantee you the address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been floating through her mind as a possible return address.”