Nikki Haley in Bamberg (copy)

Nikki Haley, former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor, speaks to students at Richard Carroll Elementary School in Bamberg in April 2019. File/Andy Shain/Staff

Nikki Haley had another interesting week.

The former S.C. governor and U.N. ambassador's unprompted tweet reinforcing her friendship with Vice President Mike Pence was hyper-analyzed in a political world laser-focused on a 2020 election that is more than a year away.

She tweeted: "Enough of the false rumors. Vice President Pence has been a dear friend of mine for years. He has been a loyal and trustworthy VP to the President. He has my complete support."

Most folks took it to mean that she had no interest in supplanting Pence, an ally since their days as governors, on the 2020 ticket with President Donald Trump.

She took some hits. A senior administration official told the Washington Examiner: "The only person talking about Nikki Haley as VP is Nikki Haley herself." 

But consider there's another narrative forming. This one is about Haley and Pence becoming rivals for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. Pence will headline U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan's Freedom and Faith BBQ in Anderson on Monday, his third trip to the early primary state this year.

Haley has not explained her tweet (she went on to post about student debt, socialism and Trey Gowdy's birthday). And her camp declined comment. (Update — A Haley spokeswoman offered an explanation to Politico.)

Many questions remain about Haley's political future in 2020 and 2024. 

A few answers about how Republican voters feel about that can be found in her home state, a GOP stronghold.

Haley holds a 75 percent favorability rating among S.C. GOP primary voters, according to a Post and Courier-Change Research Poll conducted earlier this month.

And three out of four Republicans in South Carolina believe her policies are aligned closely with Trump, who handily won the 2016 primary and general election in the state.

A Washington Examiner columnist laid out his case Friday for Haley dominating Trump in early-voting states en route to the nomination, saying GOP voters want the same policies but with a "steadier hand."

But hold no illusions that Haley could challenge Trump in 2020 — something whispered in political circles but she has pledged not to do.

Haley loses a head-to-head matchup with the president among S.C. Republican primary voters 79 percent to 14 percent, the poll found.

(To her credit, that's better than former S.C. governor and congressman Mark Sanford, who is actually considering a run against Trump. The president trounces Sanford among S.C. Republican primary voters 95 percent to 2 percent.)

Part of the reason for Trump's solid showing is his 95 percent favorability with S.C. Republican primary voters.

Haley has a few things to note from the poll if she ever decides on a White House bid.

She did a little better than her overall showing against Trump with 18- to 34-year-olds, Lowcountry residents and independents. But she struggled with women and voters age 65 and older.

Haley's willingness to stand up to Trump occasionally is seen as an asset to the president's critics.

She took on Trump this month by reacting to his put-downs of Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings of Baltimore with a tweet saying "This is so unnecessary" that included an eye roll emoji.

Haley was a Trump critic during the 2016 presidential primary, slamming the New York real estate mogul's proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from certain countries from entering the United States.

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Now Republicans don't want to see Haley knock her old boss. 

Only one out of four S.C. Republicans said she should disagree publicly with the president. More than half said she shouldn't.

It's a different story among independents, considered crucial in elections that have become more partisan.

In South Carolina, nearly two of three independent voters think Haley can voice her disagreements publicly with Trump. One in four voters polled identified as independent.

The end game for Haley comes in the 2024 election cycle when she is expected to run for president. A new book, a new policy group and speaking tour are signs she's laying the foundation for a bid.

Once Trump moves on, Haley is seen as a viable presidential candidate among S.C. GOP voters. 

If Haley runs for the White House in 2024, seven out of 10 S.C. Republicans said they would likely vote for her, according to The Post and Courier-Change Research poll.

Even S.C. independent voters back a potential bid. She got 47 percent of support from independents while 37 percent said they would be unlikely to vote for Haley in 2024.

Yes, the idea of a Haley for President campaign is far off.

But consider how early the 2020 cycle started.

So let the chatter begin.

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