COLUMBIA — From CNN to National Public Radio to People magazine, Gov. Nikki Haley was nearly inescapable on the national media circuit last week.
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State law states:“No candidate, committee, public official, or political party may use campaign funds to defray personal expenses which are unrelated to the campaign or the office if the candidate is an officeholder nor may these funds be converted to personal use.”The law continues: “The prohibition of this subsection does not extend to the incidental personal use of campaign materials or equipment nor to an expenditure used to defray any ordinary expenses incurred in connection with an individual’s duties as a holder of elective office.”
The first-term governor blitzed the airwaves and print pages in promotion of her new book, “Can’t Is Not an Option,” which traces her experiences growing up in Bamberg through her first days in office.
Last week’s national exposure, mostly favorable and focused on Haley’s personal story, highlighted the differences in how the governor is perceived nationally versus at home in South Carolina, political experts said.
The South Carolina Haley, they said, is an oft-embattled governor, fighting the Legislature and some members of her own party, and not a sure bet for re-election in two years.
The national Haley is less controversial, a rising star who’s burning bright enough to merit speculation as Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign running mate.
“There definitely seems to be two different narratives about Nikki Haley,” said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University pollster and political scientist.
“Nationally, the lens that falls on her is much more favorable and gauzy and soft-lit. She isn’t challenged the way she is back home.”
The polling outfit Huffmon leads at Winthrop released results in December that provided one of the most notable indicators that Haley had work to do to win over many South Carolinians.
Just 34.6 percent of registered voters surveyed, and 52.5 percent of Republicans, approved of Haley’s job performance.
The S.C. Republican Party has disputed the poll’s findings, while Huffmon has said the attacks on the poll are off-base.
More recent exit polling from the GOP presidential primary in January presented a brighter picture of the perception of Haley in South Carolina.
Nearly two-thirds of voters in that contest said they approve of the governor’s performance.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said there’s a dramatic difference in how Haley is seen on the local and national stages.
Much of that contrast is owed to Haley’s emergence as one of the faces of a new diversity among Republican officeholders, he said.
Sabato said that while her recognition among the general population is minimal, Haley’s identity as a young Indian-American makes her a popular figure among national Republicans.
“Republicans have needed to diversify, and they know it,” he said. “So they’re delighted that recent elections have given them something other than a lily-white cast.”
Huffmon said the way Haley is treated on the national stage is not unique, comparing her mostly state-politics free appearances to those of New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Scott Buchanan, executive director of The Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics, said the divergence in Haley’s national and in-state perceptions is owed to the realities of governing.
Candidates like Haley who were elected with tea party support in 2010 have found that change in politics does not come as quickly as some in tea party circles would like, he said.
Recent media reports have chronicled Haley’s dwindling support among some South Carolina tea party leaders.
“The tea party is a little bit impatient,” Buchanan said. But “it’s one thing to campaign, it’s another thing to actually govern. It’s a fact of political life.”
Haley’s media tour last week included an average of more than six media interviews per day during the work week, according to a public schedule released by her office Monday.
The schedule included one non-media-related event: an appearance Saturday with first gentleman Michael Haley at the Family Circle Cup’s 40th anniversary celebration.
So who paid for the travel costs of the governor’s national media junket last week?
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said the book’s publisher, Penguin Group, picked up the tab.
The governor did not use the state plane for her travels, according to the S.C. Aeronautics Commission.
One item Penguin didn’t cover is the cost of Haley’s state-funded State Law Enforcement Division security detail.
Haley’s administration has pledged to pay back the state for security detail costs related to the governor’s past campaign-fundraising trips, but Godfrey said state law bars the use of campaign funds on non-campaign-related events such as the book tour.
S.C. Ethics Commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood said that while Haley’s book tour might represent an anomaly for the purposes of that law, the tour is not a campaign event, and campaign funds shouldn’t be used to cover the cost of the security detail.
A state budget proviso dictates that SLED, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the S.C. Department of Public Safety will work with the governor’s office to provide the governor’s security detail.
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172. Follow him on Twitter at @stephenlargen.
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