GREENVILLE, S.C. – Despite Newt Gingrich’s commanding lead over Mitt Romney in the Palmetto State, Gov. Nikki Haley said Friday she endorsed Romney in part because he’s “the one person President Obama goes after, over and over” – evidence, she said, of how seriously the White House takes his presidential candidacy.
Haley, in her first term, is considered a rising star in GOP political circles, and Romney is hoping that her backing – announced early Friday on Fox News -- will help boost his campaign in this crucial, deeply conservative primary state. Recent polls have shown the former House Speaker with leads of between 16 and 23 points over Romney in the state.
Haley dismissed the notion that Romney's Mormon faith could be a hindrance for any potential voters here. "The reason I know why is because South Carolina just elected a 38-year-old Indian female for governor," she said in reference to herself.
Unions are a major issue in this state, thanks to the National Labor Relations Board filing of a complaint against Boeing Co. in March accusing the aerospace company of establishing a nonunion production line in South Carolina in retaliation against union workers in Washington state for past strikes. The board dropped its action against Boeing last week.
"I don't think you've got a friend of the unions in this man," Haley said of Romney. She added, “The people of South Carolina are very impatient; they want to see real results. And that's what we see in Gov. Romney."
Romney did not address Gingrich in his speech, sticking to his strategy of focusing on Obama and the economy. Speaking of the nation's accumulating debt and the president's "refusal" to talk about entitement reform, Romney said, "It's a sad experience to watch what he has been doing.”
Romney also returned the compliment to Haley, who was also an underdog in her 2010 race,. He was one of the first national figures to support her, and his Free & Strong America political action committee gave her $62,000 during her race.
"I watched her campaign -- I remember she was number four in the polls," he said. He then went on to say that “polls remind me a bit of a date" - one has to look around and exhaust all options "before you get married and you take it real seriously."