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SC's Nikki Haley now a registered Charleston voter, but won't endorse in Congress race yet

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Nikki Haley PGA (copy) (copy)

Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is co-chair of the PGA Championship Counsel for the 2021 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. Haley, who not too long ago purchased a home on Kiawah, quietly registered to vote in Charleston County. File/Tommy Braswell/Special to The Post and Courier

Quietly last week, Nikki Haley became the most important new Republican voter registered in Charleston County.

The former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador changed her voting address in advance of the May 9 cutoff date from her old home in Lexington County to her new residence on Kiawah Island.

Normally a change of address for a now-private citizen is no big deal. But Haley's reorienting to the Lowcountry puts her in the coastal 1st Congressional District.

That's where six weeks from now, on June 9, Republicans will pick a candidate to take on Democrat Joe Cunningham in the fall. 

The GOP field includes state Rep. Nancy Mace, Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing, Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox and Bluffton community development leader Brad Mole.

The stakes are high: Republicans say reclaiming the seat, which runs from the Charleston region, Summerville and Berkeley County to Hilton Head Island, is one of their top national priorities this year, so any advantage Haley's high GOP approval marks can add toward picking a winner helps.

So as a rank-and-file Republican voter, who does Haley back?

Right now no one, at least not publicly.

"Ambassador Haley is not going to make an endorsement in the congressional primary," her spokeswoman, Chaney Denton, told Palmetto Politics. "However, she looks forward to supporting the Republican nominee in the general election in the fall."

The latter pronouncement is bad news for Cunningham, as Republicans will throw everything they can at the one-term incumbent who voted for Donald Trump's impeachment.

While Haley is outwardly neutral in the race, there are links being promoted. Landing, for instance, has included photographs of her standing with Haley as a part of her social media messaging.

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"What a great time with former Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as the 2021 PGA TOUR held its official 'Tee Off' launch," Landing put on Facebook last year. "She and Michael were so gracious and kind, as we discussed a wide array of issues including the need to win back #SC1."

Reached Friday, Landing, who said she's met Haley on two occasions, spoke of her recent endorsement by former Sen. Jim DeMint, her support for Trump and efforts to "drain the swamp."

"If that turns out to be something that appeals to Ambassador Haley, that would be great," she said.

Mace said she's reached out to Republicans everywhere, including in the S.C. congressional delegation, but understands the theme of neutrality ahead of the primary.

"I'm excited she's a registered voter in the 1st Congressional District," Mace said of Haley.

College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts said prior to Trump's arrival, politicians staying out of other politicians' primaries was a recognized norm that allowed for party unity to take hold during the general election.

In Haley's case, though, he said anything she does around the 1st District means someone will be watching to see if she tips her hand.

"Obviously she is going to vote for someone," he said.

Gibbs has another theory, too: Haley's simple motivation in registering may have nothing to do with anybody else's run for office.

"For someone with future political ambitions, it would look bad not to register to vote," he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

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