S.C.'s Nikki Haley is national star but struggles at home

The State (S.C.)October 29, 2012 

Politics is a game of addition, normally. Politicians work to keep the support of their base and, at the same time, win new supporters.

Not so with S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, critics say. In the two years since her election, the first-term Republican has turned that adage on its ear, playing a game of subtraction.

Critics say Haley has adopted an insular management style, surrounding herself with a small group of 20-something former campaign staffers, led until recently by a young chief of staff, with limited state government experience. She also employs an “us vs. them” mentality against her perceived foes.

The result?

Haley has alienated some former allies, made powerful enemies and damaged relationships with legislators who could have helped pass her agenda. A list of the bruised extends from Tea Party elements and the libertarian Policy Council, both of which once championed Haley, to fellow Republicans, including House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

Inside South Carolina, the Lexington Republican has failed to add to her political following – with one major exception. Her support has grown in the business community, which says Haley is working hard to bring jobs to the state.

Haley has had far more success outside South Carolina. She has spent dozens of hours and traveled thousands of miles building her national image as a rising conservative star – a young, minority woman, driven by the desire to reform her state. That image has allowed Haley to raise big bucks, much from out-of-state donors, and landed her a coveted speaking role at this year’s Republican National Convention.

Haley repeatedly has said she has no ambition beyond South Carolina. But chatter continues that a win by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, whom the governor has worked to elect, would open untold national doors for Haley.

But if President Barack Obama is re-elected, opinions are split on whether Haley can win re-election in 2014.

Some Republicans expect Haley will face a GOP primary challenger, funded by dissatisfied party donors. If that challenge comes, Haley may not be able to rely fully on the S.C. Republican Party. In part, that is because many S.C. Republicans are peeved Haley has not raised money for the party, as previous GOP governors have done. Instead, she has raised money – and her national profile – for Republican candidates and groups in other states, from Virginia to Arizona.

Still, some political observers, including Bob McAlister, a longtime S.C. political consultant and former chief of staff to the late Gov. Carroll Campbell, say Haley is a shoo-in for renomination.

“By and large, she’s made herself virtually unbeatable in a primary,” said McAlister. “She’s raised a lot of money,” a reference to the more than $1 million in Haley’s re-election war chest.

The ‘frat-boy’ inner circle

Haley arrived in office bruised, dogged by allegations of ethical scandals. The team that Haley assembled to help run her office did little to help her move beyond those problems.

While some of Haley’s hires for the governor’s office had experience in prior administrations, including Haley’s attorney and her D.C.-based pollster-adviser, most of her team was young and had worked only on campaigns, not in state government.

“It consisted of inexperienced people, almost a frat-boy mentality, who were giving her a lot of bad advice,” said John Crangle, a longtime State House lobbyist and frequent Haley critic.

Haley’s office acknowledges the new governor “did hire a few key campaign staff members.” But Rob Godfrey, Haley’s spokesman who also worked for her campaign, says, “They have done a great job.”

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service