CHAPIN — Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ahead of Saturday’s Republican primary shows there’s an effort underway to combine the so-called establishment wing with its emerging youth movement and the growing crop of newcomers the GOP needs to survive.
Speaking to a crowd of at least 1,000, Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants, and Rubio, whose family came to America from Cuba in the late 1950s, touted how their families achieved the American dream — a dream that had to be protected.
She also highlighted what she was seeking in a candidate.
“I wanted somebody humble enough that remembers you work for all of the people,” Haley said. “And I wanted somebody that was going to show my parents that the best decision they made for their children was coming to America.”
Haley joins U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and Upstate Congressman Trey Gowdy as the most visible South Carolina politicians to go with Rubio. Her endorsement is the most critical prize of all, as she is both the elected leader of the Republican Party in the state and an emerging star on the national stage.
The pick should also help Rubio move up closer to GOP front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in South Carolina after his dismal fifth-place finish in New Hampshire.
Haley’s decision-making process was kept a well-guarded secret to the end. She told reporters on Tuesday that she was unsure whether she would make a pick.
The 11th-hour endorsement gives Haley time to appear on the stump with Rubio for the rest of the week as the GOP battle races to the finish line Saturday.
Gibbs Knotts, political science professor at the College of Charleston, said the late endorsement was a good way to bring attention to the campaign. Haley has a big national profile and it helps that the nation’s attention is on South Carolina through the primary, he said.
Haley’s endorsement will have an impact, Knotts added. But in a year in which establishment candidates aren’t faring in the polls, how much remains to be seen.
“I do think we need to be somewhat cautious in 2016 because of this backlash we see against Washington and establishment-type of candidate,” Knotts said. “This could be a year where I don’t think endorsements are a kiss of death, but they have a little less power given the anti-establishment fervor.”
The candidate most injured by the pick is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who held out hope that Haley might throw her support behind him as a way to reboot him as the so-called “establishment” candidate. Bush’s numbers have failed to move very much in South Carolina, with some polls leaving him fourth in a six-man race.
During a meeting with The Post and Courier’s editorial board Wednesday, Bush responded to the endorsement by calling Haley “a talent. And I’m disappointed I didn’t earn her support.”
He went on to say the South Carolina race is far from over, and noted Haley supported eventual nominee Mitt Romney here four years ago ahead of Romney getting beat in the primary by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich by some 12 points.
Haley’s endorsement also comes as party front-runner Trump still holds a 16-point lead among Republicans expected to vote Saturday, according to a CNN/ORC Poll released Tuesday, the latest measure of the race available.
Trump is at 38 percent, putting him far out in front of Cruz, with 22 percent. Rubio is next with a 14 percent level of support.
Haley is expected to help portray Rubio’s continued viability as a candidate beyond the primary process and into the November election versus a likely showdown with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Haley is also expected to take on a much greater role with the GOP in its national quest to take back the White House, as illustrated by her handling of the Emanuel AME Church shooting, her call to bring down the Confederate flag from the Statehouse and the state’s response to the police shooting of North Charleston motorist Walter Scott.
South Carolina’s tragic 2015 was touched on by both Haley and Rubio Wednesday night. Rubio said that the way the state came together was an inspiration to the country, and to him. He also touted South Carolina’s economic boom, saying Washington had to mimic more of what the Palmetto State has done.
“We must return to the principles that made us great to begin with: limited government,” Rubio said. “I trust our states and our local communities much more than I trust the federal government and Congress.”
Before ending the rally, Haley called on those in attendance to vote Saturday. She also encouraged them to spread the word.
“We make presidents,” Haley said. “Let’s make Marco Rubio the next president of the United States.”