TAMPA, fla. — Gov. Nikki Haley repeated many of the issues and challenges she has talked about around South Carolina for two years, but thousands of Republicans convening inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum and millions more across the country heard them for the first time Tuesday night.
“Sadly, the hardest part of my job continues to be this federal government, this administration and this president,” Haley said, noting the federal government’s challenge of the state’s new immigration law and its labor battle against Boeing’s new North Charleston plant.
She got the biggest reaction, a standing ovation, during her 10-minute address when she complained about the U.S. Justice Department’s fight against the state’s Voter ID law, which would require all voters to show a photo ID.
She also called the National Labor Relation Board’s fight against Boeing as “shameful and not worthy of the promise of America.
“But we did one of the things we did best in South Carolina. We got loud,” she said. “We’re fighters in South Carolina. And we watched an amazing thing happen. You fought with us, and guess what? We won.”
Her 9:55 p.m. speech came in part as a reward for her loyalty to Romney — she backed him in 2008 and was one of the state’s few GOP heavyweights to endorse the former Massachusetts governor before South Carolina’s January primary — and her growing national reputation as a surprisingly atypical Southern governor.
She also talked about her background as a daughter of Indian immigrants. “Almost 45 years after my parent first became Americans, I stand before you and them tonight as a proud governor of South Carolina.”
Haley was a star Tuesday, but Romney’s wife Ann and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had even later slots. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and others shared the prime time lights.
Haley stuck to the evening’s theme, a blended one between the Obama criticism planned for Monday’s cancelled convention schedule and the “We built it” theme discussing how Romney would help small business.
Haley’s star status has been on display here for days. Monday morning, she won a standing ovation from Florida’s GOP delegation. Georgetown County GOP Chair Jim Jerow, who is at his first convention, was there and noted Haley “is growing in her job.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who had the biggest moment at the GOP convention four years ago, said Haley’s speech would be a good honor for the state and for her as an individual.
He said she needed to make the home team proud, please the “chattering class” in the media and make a personal connection. “I think she’s going to do really good,” he predicted.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., agreed with Graham’s prediction. “She’s going to showcase the state well. She always does,” he said. “It’s got to help her. I’m focused on how it helps us as a party. She’s going to be the face of the party.”
Haley’s prime time appearance will help boost her stature if she chooses to seek re-election in two years, particularly because some expect she could face a primary fight, possibly against S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis.
Loftis was on the convention floor Tuesday and said the state is well represented here by Haley and U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
Asked about if he might run against Haley, Loftis said Tuesday, “I’m amazed that someone has time to think about that. I don’t.”
Democrats criticized Haley for being in Tampa rather than home, particularly as outer bands of Hurricane Isaac caused flooding in downtown Charleston.
State Democratic Chair Dick Harpootlian described the damage as “devastating,” adding, “The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are all in their states making sure their citizens’ property and lives are safe and secure. Nikki once again proved that politics, not the people of her state, are the most important.”
S.C. GOP Chair Chad Connelly said Harpootlian is “teetering on the edge of irrelevancy” and searching for a distraction from Haley’s big moment.
Delegate Carroll Duncan of Dorchester County said she was sorry to hear Charleston flooded, “but she (Haley) couldn’t have changed that.”
Haley’s address and weeklong presence here also will help with one of those pesky but important political chores: raising money.
Her campaign sent out a mass email earlier Tuesday, saying, “We hope that your family and friends will tune in tonight at 9:50 p.m. Thank you for your continued support.”