S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley could be about to take another step into the national spotlight.
This week, Haley could be elected vice chair of the Republican Governors Association.
Haley is on the RGA’s executive committee and is a contender for its vice chairmanship. Typically, vice chairs rise to become chair of the association the following year. For Haley, that means if she is elected vice chair, she would chair the GOP governors group in 2018, her final year as S.C. governor.
The Republican governors are meeting this week in Orlando.
“It ups her national profile,” said political consultant Katon Dawson, a former S.C. GOP chairman.
Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon agreed.
“It would further signal her move on to a national stage.”
Haley, in her second-term as S.C. governor, has made plenty of national headlines in recent years — for her handling of the Emanuel Nine church shooting, Confederate flag controversy and flooding in 2015 and, most recently, for this year’s Hurricane Matthew.
As governor, Haley has built relationships with current and former GOP governors, including early Republican presidential contenders — former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former RGA chair; former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former RGA chair; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a former RGA chair; and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, now vice chair of the RGA.
Walker is expected to be elected chair of the RGA, succeeding New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
Haley also has campaigned actively for Republicans outside South Carolina, including stumping for Walker in Wisconsin, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president-elect.
Haley’s out-of-state contacts also contributed almost $4 million to her 2014 re-election bid.
Haley has reached the Republican base outside of South Carolina, said Huffman, adding a RGA leadership position would demonstrate again that she is national figure, not just a regional conservative.
Haley already is a national celebrity, Dawson said, adding a top post with the Republican Governors Association “takes it to the next level.”
Former S.C. Govs. Carol Campbell, David Beasley and Mark Sanford were all chairs of the RGA, serving as fundraisers and cheerleaders for other GOP governors.
A leadership position also would set up Haley for her post-governor life, Dawson said, adding Haley could serve on substantial corporate boards due to her government experience and national contacts.
Raising her profile could help Haley if she continues on to another elected position or goes into the private sector, Huffmon said.
National name recognition could help her extend her donor base or contacts for the private sector, Huffmon said.
This week’s gathering of GOP governors has taken on a different tone since the Nov. 8 election of President-elect Donald Trump. Pence, the outgoing governor of Indiana, is at the gathering.
Had Republican nominee Trump lost, the GOP governors would have been sizing each other up to challenge Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2020.
Now, those ambitions have been put on hold and, instead, the Republican governors have been joined by Vice President-elect Pence.
“Gov. Haley is still a rising star in the national Republican Party,” said S.C. GOP chairman Matt Moore.
“She’s such a unique voice in the national party,” Moore said, adding, “The governors are very smart to put her in a leadership position.”
Moore noted Haley spent a lot of time on the road last year, helping elect other GOP governors. Leadership positions in the RGA are a reward for that hard work, Moore said.
Moore also anticipates Haley will increase her presence in the national media.
Haley will have “plenty of opportunity if she so desires” a role in national politics, Moore said.