Can Haley win again in 2014?
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 Gov. Nikki Haley, critics say. In the two years since her election, the first-term Republican has turned that adage on its ear.
Critics say Haley has adopted an insular management style, surrounding herself with a small group of 20-something former campaign staffers with limited state government experience. She also employs an “us vs. them” mentality against her perceived foes.
Haley has alienated some former allies, made powerful enemies and damaged relationships with legislators who could have helped pass her agenda.
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. 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.
Still, some political observers, including Bob McAlister, a longtime S.C. political consultant and former chief of staff to the late Gov. Carroll Campbell, said Haley is a shoo-in for re-nomination.
“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.
Haley arrived in office bruised, dogged by allegations of ethical scandals.
The team that Haley assembled to help her run her office did little to help her move beyond those problems.
While some of Haley’s hires 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 long time State House lobbyist and frequent Haley critic.
Haley’s office acknowledged the new governor “did hire a few key campaign staff members.” Rocky relationship
On the 2010 campaign trail, Haley repeatedly was asked whether she could work with the General Assembly to get legislation passed.
Haley vowed to work with lawmakers.
Instead, Haley has angered lawmakers, issuing report cards last year that graded them on whether they followed her lead and writing a memoir that sharply criticized several legislators.
In January and February, the House and Senate unanimously passed resolutions disavowing a vote by Haley’s environmental board that helped Georgia expand its Savannah port at the expense of Charleston’s port. Lawmakers said they still don’t know why Haley acted as she did on the issue, now tied up in lawsuits.
Haley also has made an enemy of House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.
The two have long quarreled — starting with Haley’s committee assignment while a House member. But the private shouting matches exploded into public over Haley’s portrayal of Harrell as corrupt in her memoir and Harrell’s role in a probe of Haley’s ethics.
Haley’s office said tension is inevitable when a reform-minded governor takes on hard-headed lawmakers, resistant to change.
Still, some of Haley’s top agenda items remain undone because of her sour relationship with lawmakers.
The biggest example? Haley’s inability to pass one of her top agenda items, a new Department of Administration. Haley and her allies have said creating the department, which would be the biggest government restructuring in decades, would make state government more accountable and efficient.
Odds seemed good the bill would pass this past legislative session.
Republicans and Democrats alike — including Haley’s 2010 Democratic opponent for governor, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden — supported the effort. On the final day of the legislative session, the bill only lacked a final vote from the Senate to become law.
Instead, a majority of senators — led by Haley nemesis Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, who used a racial slur to describe Haley in 2010 — ran the clock out on the bill.
“There was an element in the Senate, a bipartisan element, that did not want her to be able to declare victory,” said state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who worked with the governor’s office to get the bill passed.
“What happened that last day, I view that just as being personal. They just didn’t want her to have it.”
The Sanford effect
Other fractured relationships have broken some of the bonds that laid the groundwork for Haley’s unlikely win in 2010.
Perhaps Haley’s most important early advocate was former Gov. Sanford, who persuaded Haley to run. By election night, Sanford had raised more than $400,000 for Haley and also invested his political capital in her, promising backers that Haley would carry his libertarian baton and continue his reform fight.
Today, that political capital has dried up. Sanford has not publicly discussed Haley. Privately, those close to the former governor said the word that he uses to describe his assessment of Haley is “disappointed.”
Other former political allies also have cooled on Haley.
In 2010, the state’s tea party organizations, then a new power, fired up their grass-roots base and helped deliver the Governor’s Mansion for Haley. Today, some of those organizations also have said Haley is a disappointment.
Joe Dugan, state coordinator for the S.C. Patriots and chairman of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party, said he is disappointed in Haley, specifically her endorsements of two moderate candidates — Romney, before the state’s January GOP presidential primary, and Tom Rice, this spring in the 7th District congressional race.
‘She has the style’
The one area where Haley seemingly has expanded her support is in the business community, where many laud her focus on job recruitment, a top priority in a state with a 9 percent jobless rate.
(At the request of the governor’s office, more than a dozen economic-development and tourism officials called The State newspaper to express support for Haley’s jobs efforts.)
Even one-time opponents have changed their minds.
S.C. Chamber of Commerce president Otis Rawl — whose organization endorsed Gresham Barrett, one of Haley’s GOP rivals, in 2010 — said Haley deserves part of the credit for the $7 billion in investment and 27,000 new jobs landed by the state’s manufacturing sector since 2011.
While previous governors also worked to land jobs, Haley is one of the best at it, said Danny Black, chief executive of SouthernCarolina Alliance, the economic-development organization for the southern part of the state.
“She has the style and personality to connect with people,” said Black, who credits Haley for helping Denmark recruit Masonite, a door manufacturer that has pledged to bring up to 200 jobs to that rural town. “I don’t know of anyone — with the exception of Carroll Campbell — who is so good at handling the heads of these companies.