2012 GOP Hopefuls Court SC-GOV Contender Haley In Key Primary State

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June 18, 2010 12:20 p.m.
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This Tuesday’s South Carolina Republican gubernatorial runoff is shaping up to be a major battle for the GOP — and a sneak peek at what the 2012 Republican presidential primaries could be like, as the party’s wings do battle in this major early primary state.

Assuming that the GOP keeps the governorship of this red state, the new governor will be highly influential with the party’s base and various organizations — and somebody that a national candidate will want to have supporting them. Already, some of the GOP’s potential presidential candidates have been involved in the race. Sarah Palin strongly endorsed state Rep. Nikki Haley during the first round, backing her up in the face of scandals when Haley was accused of having extra-marital affairs.

Mitt Romney also supported Haley in the first round, after Haley had supported him during the 2008 primaries. Romney returned to the state today to campaign for Haley again – and also, as the Politico reports, he’s donated $42,000 to Haley’s campaign, taking advantage of a loophole that allows him to donate from his national PAC and various statewide PACs.

During the first round, Mike Huckabee endorsed and recorded a commercial for Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who had supported Huckabee in 2008 — and unfortunately for Huck, Bauer came in fourth place with 12%.In the June 8 first round of the primary, Haley won 49% of the vote against three opponents — just short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. As Politico reported, the race has already seen a divide, with national conservatives supporting Haley, while many state-level Republicans are backing her opponent, Rep. Gresham Barrett.

The reason: Haley is closely associated and identified with Gov. Mark Sanford, who in addition to his personal scandals often had a combative relationship with the legislature, with Sanford coming from a more staunchly conservative, Tea Party-style brand of Republicanism. And considering that Barrett had a mere 22% of the vote in the first round, Haley is heavily favored to win.

Joseph Stewart, a political science professor at Clemson, explained to us that we should expect big national Republicans, including potential presidential candidates, to come visit the state — but that Haley’s seemingly certain frontrunner status in the runoff changes the circumstances a bit.

“I would think that you would start to see them showing up, but given how few votes Haley has to pick up, that this is probably a foregone conclusion,” said Stewart. “It’s unlikely that people are going to be able to come in and change the outcome, so they may just come in and ride on this, that if they’re willing to back Haley they’ll come in and say, ‘I was part of this winning effort.'”

“So I think what we’ll continue to see in the state is more division in the Republican Party. in terms of the national scene, my perception is there are a number of splits in the national Republican party. So South Carolina, with Haley having won the governorship, and if I were betting that is what I would bet on, this will be one of the strong point. the tea party will be able to claim we had a real influence here, we were successful, so the rest of the party ought to take our tack in terms of mounting a national campaign.”

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