South Carolina elects Nikki Haley, its first female governor

The StateNovember 3, 2010 

In a state where "you're not from around here" can be both an inquiry and an accusation, Republican Nikki Haley connected with S.C. voters through biography and policies to overcome history and become the state's first woman and first minority governor.

Haley edged Kershaw Democrat Vincent Sheheen in a race that became tense and tight toward the end, as Sheheen sought to make the race a referendum on character.

"Ideas win," said Jenny Sanford, the state's former first lady who provided the once underdog candidate with a key endorsement. "There is only so far you can go if you rip somebody up. At the end of the day your own campaign has to be about something."

Voters found a lot to like in Haley, which proved insurmountable for Democratic opponent Vincent Sheheen when coupled with a national political climate favoring Republicans.

Haley's pledges to rein in state spending, reject federal assistance and fight to the U.S. Supreme Court a recently enacted health-care law appealed to many. In addition, Haley was a disciplined, natural candidate who could connect in person and in advertising.

Pam Shumway, 68 of McCormick, said she first saw Haley at April's Tea Party rally, footage of which ended up in her campaign commercials. More than six months later, Shumway, welling with pride, was clasping Haley's hands, astonished the Lexington state representative was about to win the governorship.

"She was well-spoken," Shumway said. "She had a message that made me say out loud, 'Yes!' "

Haley's push to require more roll-call legislative votes was a symbol of the way that she would lead government, said Shumway, who voted for Haley in the GOP primary and told friends, family and neighbors about her campaign. Shumway, an English teacher, said she felt like a parent watching a child grow up during the campaign.

"It was so courageous, this little woman up there."

Jennifer Edwards, 28, was clutching one of the pink Haley campaign T-shirts with the Margaret Thatcher quote: "If you want something said, ask a man ... if you want something done, ask a woman" on the back at an Aiken rally last week. Edwards studied candidate Web sites during the primary, eventually choosing Haley. She said she found inspiration in her vote and rejected an unproven accusation by two Columbia men that they had an extramarital affair with Haley.

"She's a strong woman," Edwards said Aiken. "Those are just attacks…I don't think it's credible."

Opponents, such as one-time GOP gubernatorial rival Henry McMaster, credited Haley's political skills for her victory. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said Haley was always likely to win because S.C. demographics favor Republicans, and Haley could use health care, immigration and other national issues to her favor.

Others, such as Janice Wilson, said she liked Haley's focus on recruiting quality jobs to the state over the quantity of jobs.

On the campaign trail, most voters said they were little concerned that Haley had filed and paid her taxes late several times and refused to release legislative e-mails and hard drives. They also did not think she used her lawmaker's position to land an $110,000-a-year hospital fundraising job.

Citing those controversies, Sheheen consistently pushed the idea that he was the only candidate who could be trusted.

But voters believe Haley has the steel to make tough choices on state spending and serve as a check on legislative power.

"She is a good fiscal conservative in my view," said Dick Smith, 81, a former city council member in Aiken. "She's also unlike most of the politicians I know, having been one."

Last year, when it was mired at the back of the GOP pack and struggling to raise money, Haley's campaign focused on "winning rooms," meeting with small groups around the state.

Smith was among a handful of people who had lunch with Haley about a year ago and left impressed. Haley implored those who attended those early events to tell 10 others, and Smith, who also writes a blog, did.

"We met her early on and really admired what she had to say," Smith said. "I've gotten the word out."

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