Palin endorses GOP 'fighter'

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waves Friday after endorsing S.C. gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley during a campaign rally at the Statehouse in Columbia.

COLUMBIA -- Sarah Palin said she had found a kindred spirit in Republican gubernatorial hopeful Nikki Haley, urging state voters to get behind the Lexington candidate.

Palin threw her support to Haley in front of about 1,000 people gathered at the Statehouse steps Friday evening.

Palin, a political star since being selected as the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, said Haley shared many of her concerns to clean up "good ol' boy" government.

"The establishment said I couldn't do it, and I didn't get a lot of help from the establishment," Palin said, before addressing Haley: "I know your story. I know what you're going through."

South Carolina has never had a female governor and just once elected a female lieutenant governor.

Palin told the crowd that Haley may be an underdog in the race to replace Gov. Mark Sanford, "But she is a fighter and she's a winner. And some of the good ol' boys, maybe they don't like her too much. But it's because she stands up for what is right. She has a stiff spine, and she's doing it for you, South Carolina."

As former Alaska governor Palin spoke, environmental activists rallied nearby, holding up signs, including one that read "Spill Baby Spill," a reference to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and Palin's call for increased domestic oil production.

Haley has some backing from tea party activists but also faces three better-known and better-funded opponents in a June 8 GOP primary. At the end of March, Haley had $530,000, at least a third less than Attorney General Henry McMaster, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

The Palin endorsement buys Haley what she can't afford: a nod from one of the GOP's most luminous figures just as voter attention turns to a race overshadowed for a year by Sanford's revelation last June of an affair with an Argentine woman. He's term-limited and will leave office at the end of the year.

Palin has endorsed only a handful of candidates in governor or U.S. Senate races, including state Rep. Tom Emmer in Minnesota and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in California's U.S. Senate race.

Her endorsement likely will help Haley among conservatives, but former first lady Jenny Sanford's may mean more to others in the state. "I think she brings some credibility and a lot of people respect her opinion," said Karen Watson, 58, of Johns Island. "That's a really valuable endorsement to me."

The Associated Press and The State newspaper contributed to this report.