S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and Virginia GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ed Gillespie said Tuesday the Republican Party needs to be more inclusive, listen better to minority groups and have a brighter tone.
But the pair steered clear of criticizing presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has faced strong opposition from some members of his party for bare-knuckle style and hardline positions on immigration and Muslims.
Both Haley and Gillespie, speaking at an event in Richmond, said they support Trump. But they also stressed the need reach out to groups that have not traditionally voted for the GOP and do a better job of listening to those groups’ concerns.
Haley, a rumored vice presidential prospect who has said she does not want the position, said she was supporting Trump because he would be a better president than Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who Haley said would continue the current policies of President Barack Obama.
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“I may not know that I’m going to get with Trump; I absolutely know what I’m going to get with Hillary Clinton,” Haley said.
Haley is an Indian-American two-term governor who is seen as a rising star in the GOP. Gillespie, a longtime GOP operative and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has long helped recruit and support many minority Republican down-ballot candidates.
Trump has called for keeping Muslim immigrants out of the U.S., cracking down on immigrants in the country illegally and building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Haley was in Virginia to promote Gillespie and help him raise money ahead of the 2017 gubernatorial contest.
Gillespie is one of at least three Republicans running to be the GOP nominee for governor in 2017. U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman and Corey Stewart, who is chairman Trump’s Virginia campaign, have also said they plan to pursue the GOP nomination.
Speaking at a public policy discussion organized by Gillespie’s political action committee at a Richmond hotel, Haley also criticized Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, saying the state had become economically uncompetitive under his watch.
Haley said she used to be concerned about losing business to Virginia, but said the state has become a “non-issue” in recent years. She said Gillespie would enact business-friendly policies that would help make Virginia better able to attract and keep businesses and residents.
“I want another competitor, I’m a little bored,” she said.
Virginia’s economy has seen sluggish growth thanks in large part to a slowdown in federal spending. But McAuliffe, who is currently on a trade mission to Boston and Canada, has made economic development a top priority and frequently boasts of his ability to land more investment in Virginia than his predecessors. His spokesman, Brian Coy, was quick to dismiss Haley’s comments.
“That is tough talk from the governor of a state with an unemployment rate a full 1.7% higher than Virginia’s,” Coy said.