Haley expects to decide on re-election bid next summer
COLUMBIA — One day after Gov. Nikki Haley’s top lieutenant announced his departure from her administration to head up her re-election campaign, Haley said it’s too early to decide whether she’ll in fact run again.
Gov. Nikki Haley has chosen Bryan Stirling as her next chief of staff.
Stirling, 42, has been a deputy attorney general since January 2007 after spending a decade in private practice. His duties in the attorney general’s office have included budget issues and liaison to the Legislature. The University of South Carolina Law School graduate worked for the state GOP and House and Senate Republican caucuses during the 1996 election season.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina, Stirling worked as a special assistant to former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card in 1991 and 1992, when Card was transportation secretary for President George H.W. Bush.
The governor didn’t see a contradiction Tuesday, saying it makes sense to have a campaign operation ready to go in the event she decides to seek re-election. Haley expects to make that decision next summer, following the 2013 legislative session.
“It hasn’t even been two years yet. I just don’t know how y’all can expect me or (Haley’s husband) Michael to know that kind of decision when we haven’t even hit the second anniversary,” said Haley, who took office in January 2011.
“What I will tell you is the consultants and the people that I talk to want to keep the trains moving,” she said. “But they also understand I have the right to make that decision.”
Haley said she’s focused on doing her job and “the numbers in terms of re-election are not something I even care about.”
Tim Pearson, Haley’s current chief of staff and 2010 campaign manager, will leave Oct. 12 to run Haley’s re-election efforts.
Deputy Attorney General Bryan Stirling will take over for Pearson starting Oct. 15, Haley’s office announced Tuesday.
Haley has no declared challengers at this point, but speculation has centered on possible GOP challenges from state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, Beaufort Sen. Tom Davis or one of the state’s freshmen congressmen.
Scott Huffmon, a political scientist and pollster at Winthrop University, said there’s “a bit of prudence” to Haley’s re-election stance.
He said Haley won’t have to start a campaign from scratch if she decides to run.
And “it is always smart for any elected official to say ‘I’m focused on doing the job of the people, not re-election’ — because that helps you to run for re-election,” Huffmon said.
Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba College and longtime observer of South Carolina politics, said Haley’s position is typical.
“Politicians are basically keeping people on their toes as to what their future options are,” he said.
But Bitzer said Pearson’s job shift sends at least a common-sense perception that Haley is gearing up.
“Maybe this is an early warning shot to the GOP to say, ‘I’m preparing, I’m getting my ground forces ready and bring on any challengers, but know that I have a head start,’ ” Bitzer said.
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