So in news that comes as little surprise to anyone, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to announce she will seek a second term at a kickoff event later this month.
The groundwork has been laid for quite some time, even as she told the Morning News earlier this summer that she could “absolutely” see not running again.
In recent months, she named co-chairs of a possible campaign, listed financial backers and put former spokesperson Rob Godfrey in a political advisory role.
But even if a re-election campaign was an inevitability, it does not make the prospect any less interesting. Haley is a fascinating figure. She has been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate. A poll late last year, however, showed Haley trailing her 2010 challenger, Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen, in a then-hypothetical 2014 rematch for governor. Sheheen’s margin in the poll, conducted by PPP, a Democratic-leaning pollster, was within the margin of error, so Haley might really be ahead, but the narrowness of the margin, no matter the exact direction, was a bit startling. A theoretical 2016 presidential contender who can’t beat a Democrat for re-election in one of the reddest of the red states? Can that be?
An April Winthrop University survey showed her approval rating stood at 44 percent, with 37 percent disapproving. That’s hardly panic territory; after all, she was the only politician in the survey whose approval ratings increased from the last poll, but it doesn’t mean she is a shoe-in, either. However, her re-election is of vital importance to a Republican Party desperately reaching for the growing minority vote. Haley is the state’s first female governor and one of two Indian-American governors nationwide. She brings coveted diversity to the GOP. So it’s easy to understand why several big-time GOP figures are heading to South Carolina to lend a helping hand.
The fact that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, all Republicans, will be at her Aug. 26 kickoff events speaks to that and suggests she will have that all-important access to that national money pipeline, which likely won’t be afforded to Sheehen by the national Dems. Sheehen, coming for a pedigreed political family, has fairly deep pockets of his own, and he will have several avenues in which to attack the incumbent. Yes, Haley has no known ethical challenges on her plate – she has been investigated twice by the S.C. House, but that went nowhere – but the faint whiff of misdoings that seem to follow her doesn’t speak well to her leadership. As the “jobs” governor, South Carolina still ranks 13th in unemployment, even if those numbers have slowly improved.
Not to mention the cyber-attack against the state that exposed millions of taxpayers’ personal data – Haley admitted the state should have done a better job preventing it – and from an outsider’s perspective, the Democratic case looks pretty convincing.
But inside the Palmetto State, it is fairly clear Sheehen will have an uphill battle. First, the easygoing Camden senator and attorney is not a natural as a negative campaigner and he may not fully exploit some of the areas that seem ripe for the picking. He’s by and large a moderate, not in the pejorative sense, but his support for expanding Medicaid under Obamacare will likely cost him some votes.
Plus, it is often disregarded, but upending an incumbent, especially one with the deep campaign coffers of Haley, is extremely difficult. When there is a state like South Carolina that leans heavily toward one side of the political spectrum, it takes a very, very unpopular candidate for the dominant party to fall in statewide races.
Haley hasn’t reached that status yet, but there’s still 15 months to go.